One of the major flowering spectacles in Argentina is Erythrina crista-galli, or “ceibo” (also spelled “seíbo”). So great is this spectacle that both Argentina and Uruguay have declared it their national flower. I’ve seen only hints of it myself, as all of my trips to Argentina have been either before the peak bloom period from November to February or just after. These blossoms were seen during my most recent trip last month in Buenos Aires at La Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, where for most of the day I saw only the occasional, single, straggling blossom before finally encountering the delightful trio near the end of the day. The elegant simplicity of this photo contrasts starkly with the riotous quality that photographs of this tree in full bloom have (it may be one of the most photographed flowers on the web!).
Native also to Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil, E. crista-galli has also been planted widely in warmer regions of the world (where it is generally known as cockspur coral tree or cry-baby tree). Not everyone, however, is so enamored with this tree. In New South Wales, Australia, E. crista-galli has become abundant along several watercourses and is regarded locally as a significant invasive weed (Smith 1996). As in its native South America, its seeds are dispersed by floodwaters and germinate progressively over a period of three years, forming thickets (called “seibales” in Argentina) that can displace native vegetation.
The flaming red color of the flowers would suggest hummingbirds are the primary pollinators, and species in the genus Erythrina are generally characterized as hummingbird/passerine pollinated (Galetto 2000). However, the broad, undulating “explanade” formed by the lower lip apparently serves as a landing platform for bee pollinators (Haene and Aparicio 2007). Galetto et al. (2000) note that E. crista-galli is placed basally within the genus and suggest that it may represent an intermediate step in the shift from insect pollination to the bird pollination more typical within the genus.
Galetto, L., G. Bernardello, I. C. Isele, J. Vesprini, G. Speroni and A. Berduc. 2000. Reproductive biology of Erythrina crista-galli (Fabaceae). Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 87(2):127–145.
Haene, E. and G. Aparicio. 2007. 100 Trees of Argentina. Editorial Albatros, Buenos Aires, República Argentina, 128 pp. [una foto de las floras de E. crista-galli aparece en la portada de este libro, un regalo que me dio mi colega y buen amigo, Guillermo Videla – muchas grácias!]
Smith, J. M. B. 1996. Notes on Coral-Trees (Erythrina) in Australia with particular reference to E. crista-galli L. in New South Wales. Australian Geographical Studies 34(2):225–236.
Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011