Erythrina vespertilio

bat's wing coral tree


Erythrina vespertilio

Benth. 1848

pronounced: er-ith-RY-nuh ves-per-TY-lee-oh

(Fabaceae — the pea family)

subfamily: Faboideae - the bean subfamily


common names: bat's wing coral tree, grey corkwood

native 4Erythrina comes from the Greek ερυθρος (erythros), red; vespertilio is Latin for the bat. The bat-shaped leaflets and the light-coloured cork-like bark give rise to the common names for this tree.

This deciduous tree can be found growing in areas with climates ranging from warm sub-humid to hot semi-arid, from northern NSW to northern Queensland and across the NT to northern Western Australia; but it is mainly a tree of dry and semi-dry rainforest.

This plant is one of those collected in 1770 by Banks and Solander during the voyage of the Endeavour. It was collected at the Endeavour River (Cooktown).

It may attain a height of 30 m in rainforest, with a trunk diameter of up to 80 cm, but is usually smaller and shorter in open forest.

The stem is erect, stout, with rough bark, sparsely branching. The leaves are trifoliate, with leaflets broadly wedge-shaped at the base and 12 cm or so wide. The leaves vary in shape according to the age of the tree: those on young trees are particularly ornamental.

Between July and November, while the tree is temporarily leafless, 3 – 4 cm long, red pea-type flowers hang from the tree in long racemes. Their nectar is very popular with honey-eating birds.

The flowers are followed by dark brown, narrow pods about 12 cm in length, constricted around the seeds. The 4 – 6 orange or scarlet bean-shaped seeds in the pod ripen from April to June.

Mature trees may have a pale trunk, or have bark with irregular streaks of orange and green. There are usually stout prickles scattered over the trunk, becoming denser on the limbs and twigs. Leaves on juvenile plants may also have small prickles on both surfaces. Seeds germinate within a few days if the seed coat is nicked: seedlings grow rapidly. The tree may also be propagated from cuttings. Young trees need to be protected from animals who seek to eat their leaves, until the leaves and twigs reach a safe height.

Larvae of the moth Paralacydes maculifascia are reported to have been found feeding on the tree.

The tree often features in Aboriginal mythology. The soft timber was highly regarded by the Aborigines, and they used it for carrying vessels and shields. The timber was also used as a base for fire-lighting by friction. Early settlers often used the wood as brake blocks on carts and wagons, as well as for floats for fishing nets, and for polo balls. A tea made from the dried leaves is a sedative. The very hard orange seeds have long been used in making jewellery.


Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.


Photographs taken in Nelly Bay 2010
Page last updated 24th December 2018