Plant profiles: Coral Bean
Coral Beans are a member of the Legume family and are also known as the Cherokee Bean. Native to Texas and Mexico, they will survive in colder climates. In most areas, the branches die back in the winter and re-emerge in the spring. While this limits the size of the Coral Bean, they generally reach a height of four-feet with a four-foot, weeping spread.
The three-lobed, pointed leaves emerge almost as soon as the new branches grow from the woody base. Growing among the alternating leaves along the length of the branches are small, sharp thorns. These thorns are hard to see at first glance, as they blend in with the stalk and leaves. Long bloom spikes emerge in mid-spring and remain without leaves for their life cycle. The blooms appear from May to June, attracting Hummingbirds and Butterfly's with their scarlet red color.
Bean-like pods follow the blooms as they drop off. As they ripen, the pods turn black and eventually split-open, peeling back to reveal the scarlet beans within. A word of warning is necessary at this point. Small children are attracted to these bright, scarlet red beans that are poisonous if swallowed. These beans remain usable for several years after being collected when they are treated with a pesticide, sealed in a container and stored at room temperature.
While you can dig these up in the wild, keep in mind that they have a very large root system that does not give easily. Coral Beans put up a fight when it comes to being moved and that is when the thorns are the most dangerous. Rather than wrestle with a mature plant it would be easier to use one of the other two propagation methods, cuttings and seeds. Cuttings should be made after all seeds have ripened. Deep pots are required for both the cuttings and beans to allow for the growth of the long main root.
In order to get the beans to germinate, you will have to compromise the hard, red shell. This can be done either chemically or manually. Since I have never tried the chemical method, I will explain how I mechanically chip the shell. Using a small pair of nippers, I catch an end of a bean between the blades and close. This exposes a small section of the white bean underneath. Pot the bean one-inch deep in potting soil and wait. Plants emerge rather quickly and are ready to set in the ground when they reach six-inches in height.
I have Coral beans growing in various areas of my yard, full sun, full shade and morning sun. They all grow beautifully each year much to the delight of the Hummingbirds and myself. With their unpredictable growth, these plants work best as backdrops or alone. Group in clusters for a dramatic effect in May and June. Just remember, keep the beans out of the mouths of little ones.