Acadiana Gardening Q & A - Book Info  

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Published: 10/30/2004

From time to time we get questions about Mamou plant or plants. Sometimes its a request for help finding the seeds from people such as Ms. Lydia O. Broussard who remembers drinking the tea when she had flu, a cough or a sorethroat as a child (you can contact her at 337-364-9058). Others look for the seeds hoping to grow the old-fashioned plants for their prominent red flowers and uniquely shaped foliage.

Recently a reader wrote asking about the other Mamou plant, sometimes called the crybaby tree (also baby tears or firemans hat tree), wanting to know the differences in the two cultivars. Thanks to Kristy Thompson who grows both varieties, and Ellis Fletcher who took some of these beautiful photos in Kristys yard, we hope to help clarify that question.

Introducing the native Mamou plant

The Mamou plant whose seeds or roots are used to make the flu remedy is the native Erythrina herbacea, called Indian bean, Cherokee bean or coral bean. It is an 8- to 10-foot shrubby perennial plant that is sometimes killed back in winter, but returns from the roots in spring. It is propagated by its bright red seeds or by division of the clumps. Standing high above the foliage, 8- to 15-inch red tubular spiky flowers bloom off and on during the summer months.

In late autumn, bean-like 6-8 inch pods are produced. When they have turned black and have begun to split, the showy scarlet seeds can be seen and removed for planting. The seeds must be soaked overnight, then nicked, before planting. The seeds are reported to be poisonous.

Meeting the Mamou from Brazil

The semi-evergreen exotic Erythrina crista-galli has a looser, more open, tree form, sometimes growing to 25 feet tall. Common names are coral tree, crybaby tree and firemans hat. Two-inch suede-like flowers in the shape of a firemans hat bloom in cycles from May to frost. If the plant is killed back in winter, it will return in spring. Propagation is by seed, in the same manner as described above. Blooming is reported to be heavier when the tree is grown in poor, dry soil.

Locating Erythrina plants and seeds

Try the nurseries that offer native plants, such as Prairie Basse (896-9187) and Raintree Nursery and Gardens (237-3032).