Cockspur coral tree (Erythrina crista-galli)

Cockspur coral tree is a deciduous shrub or tree with red flowers. It is a weed of waterways and floodplains, particularly in coastal areas.

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How does this weed affect you?

Cockspur coral trees can dominate waterways and floodplains where they:

  • outcompete native vegetation
  • reduce food and habitat for native animals
  • is mildly poisonous to people
  • have major negative effects on soil stability and nutrient levels.

Human health

Cockspur coral tree leaves can make people feel unwell if eaten.

 What to do if a person is poisoned:

  • If the patient is unconscious, unresponsive or having difficulty breathing dial 000 or get to the emergency section of a hospital immediately.
  • If the patient is conscious and responsive call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 or your doctor.

What does it look like?

Cockspur coral is a small tree or shrub trees that can grow to 6 m tall. They lose their leaves in winter.

Leaves are:

Made up of three leaflets which are:

  • 3–6 cm long and 2–5 cm wide
  • oval with a narrow tip and smooth edges
  • on a stalk 5–10 cm long
  • hairless.

Flowers are:

  • scarlet-red
  • 4–5 cm long
  • pea-shaped with the largest petal bent backwards when the flower is fully open
  • in clusters 8–30 cm long at the ends of branches
    • often with three groups of flowers
    • with 20–40 flowers in each group
  • present in spring.

Fruit are:

  • large curved pods
  • 8–22 cm long
  • green when young, dark brown or black when mature
  • slightly narrowed around each seed (3–12 seeds/pod).

Seeds are:

  • about 10–15 mm long
  • brown or black
  • shiny.

Stems:

  • have cone-shaped prickles
  • brown or greyish and rough-barked when mature
  • green, shiny and hairless when young.

Similar looking plants

Cockspur coral tree looks similar to:

  • another weed called the common coral tree (Erythrina x sykesii) which has larger leaves and produces its flowers before new leaves appear in spring.
  • the native batswing coral tree (Erythrina vespertilio) which has much wider leaves (up to 12 cm wide) and smaller, usually darker red flowers.
  • the native Pine Mountain coral tree (Erythrina numerosa) which is a tree to 20 m in height with corky bark and stout prickles. The flowers are salmon to orange in colour.

Where is it found?

Cockspur coral tree has been grown as an ornamental garden plant. It has become invasive along waterways in coastal areas of New South Wales from Sydney to the Queensland border. There are also infestations in the Central West and Northern Tablelands.

It is native to South America.

What type of environment does it grow in?

Cockspur coral trees grow along riverbanks and on floodplains, swamps and wetlands. They can grow in tropical, sub-tropical and wet temperate areas.

Maps and records

  • Recorded presence of Cockspur coral tree during property inspections (Map: Biosecurity Information System - Weeds, 2017-2024)
    These records are made by authorised officers during property inspections under the Biosecurity Act 2015. Officers record the presence of priority weeds in their council area and provide this to the NSW Department of Primary Industries. Records reflect the presence of the weed on the date of inspection.

How does it spread?

They were cultivated as an ornamental garden plant. 

By seed

Flowing water moves the pods and seeds. They can also be moved with garden waste.

By plant parts

Cut or broken branches can develop roots and form new plants. These can be spread by dumped garden waste or flood waters

References

Etcheverry, S. R., Fernández, M. A., Rates, S. K., Parrillo, S., Vásques, A., & Heinzen, H. A. (2003). Pharmacological activity and phytochemical studies of Erythrina crista-galli extracts. Molecular Medicinal Chemistry, 1, 8-12.

Navie S. (2004). Declared Plants of Australia. An identification and information system. Centre for Biological Information Technology: Brisbane. [CD-ROM]

Pittwater Council (undated). Wetland Restoration: Warriewood Wetlands and Irrawong Reserve. Environment and Rehabilitation Program. Available at: http://www.pittwater.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0012/17022/Warriewood_Wetland_Restoration_Brochure.pdf

PlantNET (The NSW Plant Information Network System). Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust, Sydney. Retrieved 4 May 2020 from https://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/cgi-bin/NSWfl.pl?page=nswfl&lvl=sp&name=Erythrina~crista-galli

More information

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Control

Successful weed control relies on follow up after the initial efforts. This means looking for and killing regrowth or new seedlings. Using a combination of control methods is usually more successful.

To manage cockspur coral tree:

  • remove any trees from gardens
  • control mature trees to reduce seed production
  • check for regrowth and control seedlings near mature trees each month for at least 6 months.

Physical removal

By hand

Hand-pull or dig out small seedlings.

Chemical control

Cut stump method

Cut trunks or stems and apply herbicide to the stump within 15 seconds of cutting. Dispose of cut sections or check regularly for sprouting.

Stem injection (liquid herbicide mix)

Drill, saw or cut with an axe into the sapwood and fill with herbicide within 15 seconds of making the cut.

Stem injection with capsules

Capsules are injected into the stem's sapwood and then sealed. Use on actively growing plants.

Spraying

There is a permit for spraying but only in the Mid North Coast, Northern Rivers and Far North Coast of NSW. Apply herbicide from October to May by foliar application using knapsack or handgun. Only apply to plants less than 4 m tall or if using a knapsack, only trees less than 1.5 m tall.

Herbicide options

WARNING - ALWAYS READ THE LABEL
Users of agricultural or veterinary chemical products must always read the label and any permit, before using the product, and strictly comply with the directions on the label and the conditions of any permit. Users are not absolved from compliance with the directions on the label or the conditions of the permit by reason of any statement made or not made in this information. To view permits or product labels go to the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority website www.apvma.gov.au

See Using herbicides for more information.


PERMIT 88282 Expires 29/02/2028
Picloram 100 g/L + Triclopyr 300 g/L + Aminopyralid 8 g/L (Grazon® Extra)
Rate: 500 mL / 100 L water plus surfactant.
Comments: This permit is only for Mid North Coast, Northern Rivers and Far North Coast of NSW. Apply from October to May by foliar application using knapsack or handgun. Read permit and label for more conditions.
Withholding period: Where product is used to control woody weeds in pastures there is a restriction of 12 weeks for use of treated pastures for making hay and silage; using hay or other plant material for compost, mulch or mushroom substrate; or using animal waste from animals grazing on treated pastures for compost, mulching, or spreading on pasture/crops.
Herbicide group: 4 (previously group I), Disruptors of plant cell growth (Auxin mimics)
Resistance risk: Moderate


PERMIT 88282 Expires 29/02/2028
Triclopyr 300 g/L + Picloram 100 g/L (Various products)
Rate: 500 mL / 100 L water plus surfactant.
Comments: This permit is only for Mid North Coast, Northern Rivers and Far North Coast of NSW. Apply from October to May by foliar application using knapsack or handgun. Read permit and label for more conditions.
Withholding period: Nil.
Herbicide group: 4 (previously group I), Disruptors of plant cell growth (Auxin mimics)
Resistance risk: Moderate


PERMIT 9907 Expires 31/03/2025
Glyphosate 360 g/L (Various products)
Rate: 1 part glyphosate to 1.5 parts water
Comments: Cut stump/drill/axe cut/inject
Withholding period: Nil.
Herbicide group: 9 (previously group M), Inhibition of 5-enolpyruvyl shikimate-3 phosphate synthase (EPSP inhibition)
Resistance risk: Moderate


Metsulfuron-methyl 75 g/kg + Aminopyralid 93.7 g/kg (Di-Bak AM)
Rate: 1 capsule for every 10 cm of circumference
Comments: Capsule herbicide: See critical comments on the label for details on how to apply and seal the capsule into the sapwood of the tree trunk.
Withholding period: Nil
Herbicide group: 2 (previously group B), Inhibition of acetolactate and/or acetohydroxyacid synthase (ALS, AHAS inhibitors) + 4 (previously group I), Disruptors of plant cell growth (Auxin mimics)
Resistance risk: High/Moderate


Picloram 44.7 g/L + Aminopyralid 4.47 g/L (Vigilant II ®)
Rate: Undiluted
Comments: Cut stump application: Apply a 3–5 mm layer of gel for stems less than 20 mm. Apply 5 mm layer on stems above 20 mm. Stem inject application for trees: Make a series of cuts 15-20 mm deep around the trunk using an axe or saw. Space cuts evenly with no more than a 20-40 mm gap between them. Apply a 5 mm layer of gel over the lower surface of the cut.
Withholding period: Nil.
Herbicide group: 4 (previously group I), Disruptors of plant cell growth (Auxin mimics)
Resistance risk: Moderate


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Biosecurity duty

The content provided here is for information purposes only and is taken from the Biosecurity Act 2015 and its subordinate legislation, and the Regional Strategic Weed Management Plans (published by each Local Land Services region in NSW). It describes the state and regional priorities for weeds in New South Wales, Australia.

Area Duty
All of NSW General Biosecurity Duty
All pest plants are regulated with a general biosecurity duty to prevent, eliminate or minimise any biosecurity risk they may pose. Any person who deals with any plant, who knows (or ought to know) of any biosecurity risk, has a duty to ensure the risk is prevented, eliminated or minimised, so far as is reasonably practicable.
Hunter Regional Recommended Measure* (for Regional Priority - Asset Protection)
Land managers should mitigate the risk of the plant being introduced to their land. Land managers should mitigate spread of the plant from their land. A person should not buy, sell, move, carry or release the plant into the environment. Land managers should reduce the impact of the plant on assets of high economic, environmental and/or social value.
North Coast
Exclusion (eradication) zone: Bellingen Shire LGA, Clarence Valley LGA, Coffs Harbour City LGA, Kempsey Shire LGA, Lord Howe Island, Nambucca Valley LGA, Port Macquarie-Hastings LGA. Core infestation (containment) zone: Ballina Shire LGA, Byron Shire LGA, Kyogle Shire LGA, Lismore City LGA, Richmond Valley LGA, Tweed Shire LGA.
Regional Recommended Measure* (for Regional Priority - Containment)
Whole of region: Land managers should mitigate the risk of the plant being introduced to their land. A person should not buy, sell, move, carry or release the plant into the environment. Exclusion zone: Notify local control authority if found. Land managers should eradicate the plant from the land and keep the land free of the plant. Core infestation: Land managers should mitigate spread of the plant from their land. Land managers should reduce the impact of the plant on assets of high economic, environmental and/or social value.
*To see the Regional Strategic Weeds Management Plans containing demonstrated outcomes that fulfil the general biosecurity duty for this weed click here

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For technical advice and assistance with identification please contact your local council weeds officer.

Reviewed 2024