One of our New Year's Resolutions is to raise the profile of some of our most beloved native plants by featuring them in our outreach and propagation activities. We'll kick off our new good habit with a stunning native of the Cajun Prairie famous for its medicinal properties. The mamou plant (Erythrina herbacea), also known as coral bean, is semi-woody shrub with leaves having three distinctive spade-shaped leaflets. But its flowers are the stunners: spikes of cardinal red flowers favored by hummingbirds and butterflies. Its scarlet seeds are used in traditional medicine and are easy to germinate if planted as soon as pods open. This is a great plant for large spaces but does have thorns, so plant it where no one is likely to rub up against it.
From Plants of Louisiana site: The Acadian French name for E. herbacea is "mamou," named for a town in the center of the Cajun prairie area. It is thought to be a corruption of mammoth, since mammoth fossils have been discovered in the area (Holmes 1990). It grows in sandy woods and prairie remnants of the coastal plain in Louisiana and Texas. The Indians of Texas and Louisiana, and later the children of white settlers, were said to use the red beans to make jewelry. A tea made from E. herbacea was used as a medicinal in Louisiana. However, the plant contains a powerful alkaloid that acts in a similar way to curare, affecting the motor nerves, and is quite dangerous. The seeds are used in Mexico to poison rats, dogs, and fish (Holmes 1990). Erythrina has many common names including "Devil in the bush" which is thought to come from the large recurved thorns which snag the clothes and flesh of passersby.