Quick Facts

Quick facts

  • Cockspur Coral Tree (Erythrina crista-galli) is a large shrub or tree with thorns and red flowers that is native to South America.
  • It is commonly grown in parks and gardens and is naturalised in the coastal regions of New South Wales and Queensland.
  • It reproduces by seeds that are dispersed by water and in dumped garden waste. It also readily regrows from cut branches in contain with the soil.
  • It invades natural areas, replacing the natural canopy layer in gullies.
  • Plants can be removed mechanically or controlled with herbicides and the site should be revisited to control any regrowth.

What Does It Look Like?

What is it?

Cockspur Coral Tree (Erythrina crista-galli) is a large upright shrub or tree which loses its leaves during winter when growing in cooler climates i.e. it is deciduous. The older stems are brown or greyish in colour and have a moderately rough bark. The younger stems are green in colour, shiny, and hairless. Stems and leaf stalks are armed with sharp thorns or prickles that are sometimes hooked. The leaf stalks are 5–10 cm long and bear leaves that are made up of three leaflets. The two side leaflets are borne on thin stalks that are 5–10 mm long, while the end leaflet has a stalk that is 30–40 mm long. Leaflets are 3–6 cm long and 2–5 cm wide, egg-shaped in outline or oval in shape, hairless and have entire margins i.e. without teeth or lobes.

The flowers are scarlet red to dark red in colour, pea-shaped in appearance and 4–5 cm long. The largest and uppermost petal is bent upwards or backwards when the flowers are fully open and two of the side petals are very small at about 10 mm long and not readily apparent. The flowers are borne in large, loose and elongated clusters at the tips of the branches with 20–40 flowers in each cluster.

The fruit are large pods that turn from green to dark brown as they mature and usually contain several seeds with slight constrictions between each of the seeds. The seeds are kidney-shaped, shiny in appearance and dark brown or black in colour (Navie 2004).

For further information and assistance with identification of Cockspur Coral Tree, contact the herbarium in your state or territory.

Flower colour


Growth form (weed type/habit)

Tree, Shrub

Where it currently grows? Preferred habitat

Cockspur Coral Tree is a potential weed of wetter temperate, sub-tropical and tropical environments. This species is commonly grown in parks and gardens and is most often naturalised along waterways and in urban bushland (Navie 2004).

Are there similar species?

Cockspur Coral Tree can be confused with several other species of Coral Trees (Erythrina spp.), some of which are native. The most common of these are the horticultural hybrid Erythrina x sykesii and the native Bat's Wing Coral Tree (Erythrina vespertilio). These species can be distinguished by the following differences:

Coral Tree (Erythrina x sykesii) has leaves with broad leaflets that are entire and often more than 7 cm long and wide. Its scarlet red or reddish-orange flowers that are 30-50 mm long are densely and tightly clustered in short inflorescences and usually appear before the leaves in spring.

Bat's Wing Coral Tree (Erythrina vespertilio) has very broad leaflets that are usually two or three-lobed and up to 12 cm wide. Its scarlet red or dark red flowers are up to 30 mm long, are loosely clustered in elongated inflorescences that are 10-30 cm long and appear with the leaves in spring (Navie 2004).

Why Is It A Weed?

What are its impacts?

Native ecosystems: Cockspur Coral Tree invades natural areas such as creek lines, wetlands, hind-dunes, rainforests and salt marshes. In gullies it spreads vigorously and replaces native canopy trees (Pittwater Council undated; Sydney Weeds Committees undated). If left to grow Cockspur Coral Tree will out compete native vegetation, which in turn will reduce the food and habitat of native animals and decrease soil stability and nutrient levels (NSW Weedwise 2018).

Human impacts: The plant contains alkaloids which have powerful narcotic and purgative effects in humans and the seeds are reported to be poisonous (Plants for a Future 2008).

How does it spread?

Cockspur Coral Tree reproduces by seeds that are most commonly dispersed by water and in dumped garden waste (Navie 2004). It also easily spreads by suckering and branches left on the ground can grow into new plants (Pittwater Council undated).

What is its history in Australia?

Cockspur Coral Tree is commonly grown in parks and gardens (Navie 2004). There is a record of a plant growing in the Sydney Botanic Gardens in 1899 (National Herbarium of New South Wales 2008).

How To Manage It?

Best practice management

Cockspur Coral Tree is very similar to Common Coral Tree (Erythrina x sykessi) and therefore control methods used on Common Coral Tree are likely to be effective on Cockspur Coral Tree.

Chemical control: Cockspur Coral Tree is a deciduous tree and herbicide treatment should be applied in the growing season (spring is the best time). Herbicides can be physically injected into the trunk, and after a 24 hour wait, it should then be chopped down, and all pieces removed off site for disposal. If it is too difficult to remove the larger trunks and branches then these should be periodically re-injected with herbicide until the plant stops re-shooting (Riley undated). Herbicide injection requires a lot of poison and can be expensive. It is best to get trees when still young. The method of cutting trees and painting the stumps is unlikely to work as the tree needs to be actively growing to circulate the poison throughout the tree and roots. Any regrowth can be sprayed with herbicide. Care must be taken with herbicide application, particularly if the site is close to a creek. Sprouting logs can be regularly rolled and eventually they will die (Riley undated). See http://wilsonscreeklandcare.mullum.com.au/weeds/coral_tree.html  for more information.

Please see the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority for chemical information http://www.apvma.gov.au 

Non-chemical control: Mechanical control: A backhoe can be used to completely remove the plant. This is a good method where there is easy access and where falling branches are a danger (near houses, play areas or roads), but is costly and causes substantial soil disturbance (Riley undated).

Does it have a biological control agent?


When does it grow? (lifecycle/growth calendar)

Cockspur Coral Tree flowers mostly during spring and early summer (Navie 2004). In South America, the major flowering burst is November (spring). Plants are capable of self pollination but most pollination is carried out by birds and bees. Only about 6% of flowers set seed in natural populations, but individuals can still produce thousands of seeds (Galetto et al. 2000). In Britain, plants take 3 – 4 years to flower when propagated from seed (Plants for a Future 2008).

Where Is It Found?

Which states and territories is it found?


What areas within states and territories is it found?

Cockspur Coral Tree is becoming more widespread and common in the coastal districts of eastern Australia. It is currently listed as a priority environmental weed in two Natural Resource Management regions. It is of most concern in the coastal districts of south-eastern Queensland and central and northern New South Wales (Weeds of Australia 2016). 

In south-eastern Queensland it is most commonly found in highly disturbed low-lying swampy areas that do not have much tree cover (Weeds of Australia 2016).. 

In New South Wales it is most troublesome in the Wilsons and Richmond River catchments on the north coast. However, it also appears on environmental weed lists for the wider Sydney and Blue Mountains region and is described as a significant woody weed within the Mullet Creek Catchment in Sydney (Weeds of Australia 2016). 

Where does it originate?

Cockspur Coral Tree is native to South America (Navie 2004).

National And State Weed Listings

Is it a Weed of National Significance (WONS)?


Where is it a declared weed?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Is it on the National Alert List for Environmental Weeds?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Is it on the Agricultural Sleeper List?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Names And Taxonomy

Main scientific name

Erythrina crista-galli

Other scientific names (synonyms)?

  • Micropteryx crista-galli (L.) Walp.
  • Corallodendron crista-galli (L.) Kuntze

Does it have other known common name(s)?

Cockscomb Coral Tree, Coral Tree, Cockspur, Indian Coral Tree, Fireman's Cap, Crybabytree, Crybaby Tree

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