In a front corner of the Botanic Park site in Brookfield, Tauranga is a magnificent cockscomb or cockspur coral tree (Erythrina crista-galli) planted by the late Frank Sydenham who has gifted his 3ha to the city. Oddly, this tree isn’t on Tauranga City Council’s lists of heritage trees or protected trees, or maybe it’s not so strange given that both lists are surprisingly small for a city of 110,000 people!
I noticed the Botanic Park coral tree on the way back from photographing a much smaller tree hanging over a garden fence in the Cherrywood area. Still, the photos will give you the idea (I hope) that a really big tree would look striking.
As you can possibly see from the flower, coral trees are members of the legume family and are native to the world’s tropical belt – there are many, many varieties.
Stirling Macoboy, in his What Tree is That? book published in 1979, says the wood is brittle “and useless for woodworking”. He also advises that E. crista-galli needs annual pruning back to the main trunk in its younger years, which seems to be what the garden owner has done.
Macoboy notes that the trees enjoy a climate on “the warm, dry side but seem indifferent to winter cold short of frost”. Tauranga ticks two of those boxes but couldn’t be classed as a dry area.
E. crista-galli, planted as street trees in California, are native to Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and southern Brazil (and is the national flower of the first two).
But not all coral trees are summer flowering – Erythrina speciosa is a winter-flowering tree that blooms on bare branches.