Bat's wing coral tree (Erythrina vespertilio)

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Bat's wing coral tree in flower

Top facts

  • The bat’s wing coral tree is named for the unusual shape of its leaves, which resemble bats’ wings.
  • The name ‘coral tree’ may come from the bright red or orange colour of this species’ flowers.
  • The bat’s wing coral tree is native to northern Australia, and is also grown in cultivation as an attractive ornamental tree.
  • The bat’s wing coral tree flowers in spring and summer, often at the same time as it loses its leaves.
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Bat's wing coral tree fact file

Bat's wing coral tree description

KingdomPlantae
PhylumTracheophyta
ClassMagnoliopsida
OrderFabales
FamilyFabaceae
GenusErythrina  (1)

A distinctive Australian tree, the bat’s wing coral tree (Erythrina vespertilio) is named for its unusual leaves, which resemble bats’ wings in shape (3). Its scientific name, Erythrina, comes from Greek words meaning ‘red’, in reference to the bright red flowers of many species in this genus. These colourful blooms may also be the origin of the common name ‘coral tree’, although this could alternatively come from the coral-like shape of the branches of some Erythrina species (4).

The bat’s wing coral tree is a small to medium-sized tree (3) with pale, corky bark, and stout, conical prickles on its trunk and branches (3) (5) (6). This species’ alternative common name of ‘grey corkwood’ refers to the grey colour of its lightweight timber (3).

The leaves of the bat’s wing coral tree grow at alternating points along the stems (5) (7), in a spiral arrangement (3). Each leaf grows on a long stem and consists of three leaflets, which have two to three lobes and are highly variable in shape (3) (5) (6) (7). In wetter areas, the leaflets of the bat’s wing coral tree usually measure about 10 centimetres in length and 12 centimetres in width, and have three broad, triangular lobes (3) (5). In contrast, the leaflets of individuals in drier areas are roughly ‘V’ shaped, with two long, narrow side lobes and a reduced or absent central lobe (3) (5) (6). Each side lobe measures around 4 centimetres in length and 0.5 centimetres in width (3)

The flowers of the bat’s wing coral tree grow in clusters known as inflorescences, with each inflorescence measuring about 10 to 30 centimetres in length and consisting of 15 to 30 drooping flowers (5) (6). The large, showy flowers are bright red to orange, and their petals vary in size, with the largest petal being known as the ‘standard’ and measuring up to three centimetres in length (3) (5) (6). Each flower grows on a short stem (3) (6).

The bat’s wing coral tree produces oblong, bean-like seed pods (4) (5) (6) of up to 10 to 12 centimetres in length (3) (5) (6). The pods usually show constrictions between the seeds (5) (6). Each seed pod contains two to six shiny, kidney-shaped seeds, which are about a centimetre or so in length and are red or orange in colour (3) (5) (6).

Also known as
batswing coral tree, bean tree, gray corkwood, grey corkwood.
Synonyms
Corallodendron vespertilio, Erythrina biloba.
Size
Height: 3 - 15 m (2)
Trunk diameter: up to 0.3 m (3)
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Bat's wing coral tree biology

A deciduous plant (2) (3) (5) (7), the bat’s wing coral tree usually loses its leaves during the dry season, and often flowers while leafless (3) (7). This species typically flowers in the spring and summer (5), from May to November (2).

As in other Erythrina species, the flowers of the bat’s wing coral tree are hermaphroditic, containing both male and female reproductive parts (7).

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Bat's wing coral tree range

A widespread species across northern Australia, the bat’s wing coral tree occurs in Queensland, the Northern Territory, Western Australia, and parts of South Australia and New South Wales (3) (5) (6). This species also occurs on some offshore islands, including Dolphin Island and Barrow Island, off the coast of Western Australia (3).

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Bat's wing coral tree habitat

The bat’s wing coral tree grows in a variety of soil types (2) (3), at elevations from sea level to around 800 metres (3). It is also found in a range of vegetation types, from dry rainforest to desert (3) (5) (6), and often grows along rivers and creeks or on ridges (2) (6).

Like many Erythrina species, the bat’s wing coral tree is also grown in cultivation as an attractive ornamental tree (3) (5).

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Bat's wing coral tree status

The bat’s wing coral tree has yet to be classified by the IUCN.

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Bat's wing coral tree threats

Relatively little information is available on the conservation status of the bat’s wing coral tree, but it is generally not reported to be threatened (2) (8). This Australian tree is of little commercial value, but its wood is light and has sometimes been used for surfboards and floats (3).

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Bat's wing coral tree conservation

No specific conservation measures are currently known to be in place for the bat’s wing coral tree.

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Find out more

Find out more about the bat’s wing coral tree:

More information on plant conservation in Australia:

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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

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Glossary

Deciduous
A plant that sheds its leaves at the end of the growing season.
Genus
A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
Hermaphroditic
Possessing both male and female sex organs.
Inflorescence
The reproductive shoot of a plant, which bears a group or cluster of flowers.
Leaflets
The individual ‘leaf-like’ parts of a compound leaf.
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References

  1. Species 2000 and ITIS Catalogue of Life(April, 2013)
    http://www.catalogueoflife.org/annual-checklist
  2. FloraBase: The Western Australian Flora - Erythrina vespertilio (April, 2013)
    http://florabase.dec.wa.gov.au/browse/profile/3871
  3. Boland, D.J. et al. (2006) Forest Trees of Australia. Fifth Edition. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
  4. MobileReference (2008) Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs of the World. MobileReference, Boston.
  5. Harden, G.H. (2002) Flora of New South Wales. Revised Edition. University of New South Wales Press, Sydney.
  6. eFloraSA: Electronic Flora of South Australia - Erythrina vespertilio (April, 2013)
    http://www.flora.sa.gov.au/cgi-bin/speciesfacts_display.cgi?form=speciesfacts&name=Erythrina_vespertilio
  7. FloraBase: The Western Australian Flora - Erythrina (April, 2013)
    http://florabase.dec.wa.gov.au/browse/profile/22429
  8. International Legume Database & Information Service (ILDIS) - LegumeWeb (April, 2013)
    http://www.ildis.org/LegumeWeb/
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Image credit

Bat's wing coral tree in flower  
Bat's wing coral tree in flower

© Michael J. Barritt

Michael J. Barritt
kmmb@bigpond.net.au
http://www.flickr.com/photos/centralaustralia/

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