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Native Plant of the Month: Erythrina herbacea (Mamou)

By: Dona Weifenbach

Mamou (Erythrina herbacea) displays its showy blooms.

Mamou or coral bean is a perennial shrub growing 5-8' high growing in most areas of the state. The long, unbranched stems bear thorns and terminate in a large red flower cluster in early spring. Often, the striking flowers appear before the leaves in spike-like clusters. Hummingbirds and other pollinators are attracted to the flowers. I watched hungry Baltimore and Orchard Orioles feeding on the flowers at Peveto Woods in Cameron parish during spring migration last year and was surprised to find numerous specimens jutting out from a steep bluff near St. Francisville. The leaves appear in clusters of three and are triangular-shaped. The seed pods put on a show for the rest of the growing season. Large bright red seeds are borne in green pods 6-8 inches long. As the green pods dry out at the end of summer, they turn dark brown, opening and twisting to expose bean-like bright red seeds that persist until late fall. They are great for dried flower arrangements. Do not ingest the seeds. They are poisonous!

Mamou grows naturally in sandy woods and prairie remnants of the coastal plain but benefits from planting in fertile, moist soil. The canes die back to the ground every year, so remove them in the fall during garden cleanup. The seeds sprout easily if planted right away. The longer seeds stay on the plant, the dryer they become and require scarification to germinate. Dr. William (Bill) Reese and his former student, Dr. Charles Allen, published a book entitled 'Mamou: Acadian Folklore, Natural History, and Botany of Erythrina herbacea.' My first introduction to Louisiana native plants was in Dr. Reese's Native Flora class at ULL in the late 1970's. Enjoy!

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