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Erythrina sandwicensis
Alternative Botanical Names
Corallodendron monospermum
Erythrina monosperma
Erythrina tahitensis

Common Names
Hawaiian Coral Tree
Tiger's Claw
Potential or Traditional Uses
Lei (Flower or Seed)
Photo of Erythrina sandwicensis flower
Erythrina sandwicensis grows 35 to 45 feet tall and has about the same diameter. In cultivation, it is generally smaller, growing to 30 feet tall and 25 feet in width. The trunk and branches have a few short spines growing on them. These spines become less noticeable as the plant ages.

Erythrina sandwicensis is one of Hawai'i's few deciduous native trees. It loses it's leaves during the summer in order to conserve water and puts out new leaves in the fall. Each leaf has three round to triangular shaped leaflets. Each leaflet is up to 3 inches long.

Erythrina sandwicensis blooms after the leaves fall in the summer making the flower clusters very showy. Weissich notes that flowering time can be variable occuring during the summer through November. The curved, claw-shaped flowers are 1 to 2 inches long and grow in bunches at the ends of the branches. They are generally orange, but there are forms with red, salmon, peach, light green, yellow, or white flowers. (Criley 1999; NTBG 1996; Rauch 1997; Wagner 1990; Weissich 1995)

Habitat and Geographic Range
Erythrina sandwicensis is an endemic Hawaiian tree. It grows is the dry forests of the leeward slopes of all of the main islands from sea level to an elevation of 1,950 feet. (Wagner 1990)
Propagation by Seeds
Seeds of Erythrina sandwicensis are contained in woody pods. The Hawaiian name, wiliwili, means repeatedly twisted and refers to the seed pods which twist open to reveal the seeds. Pods usually contain 1 to 3 seeds, but may contain as many as 6 seeds. The seeds are red or orange and about 1/2 inch long. The seeds can easily be removed from the pods by hand.

Criley states that untreated seeds take as little as 5 days to germinate. However, for best germination, the seed coat should be penetrated (scarified) to allow water to enter the seed. This can be done using sandpaper, nail clippers, or by cracking with a hammer. Care must be taken to avoid damaging the inner part of the seed. Scarified seeds germinate in 3 to 14 days with close to 100% germination rate. In his germination studies, Obata found that untreated seeds of Erythrina sandwicensis had germination rates ranging from 30 to 75%.

Seeds of Erythrina sandwicensis can also be soaked in hot (120 degree F) water for 1 to 24 hours. Seeds should be soaked only until they swell. It is reported that hot water treated seeds take 14 days to one year to germinate.

The seeds can be planted up to 1/2 inch deep in sterile well-drained potting media such as 1 part perlite to 1 part sterile potting mix. Stratton's informants recommend mixtures of either 3 parts #2 perlite to 1 part Sunshine Mix #4 or 4 parts cinder to 1 part soil. They also recommend planting individual seeds in 3 inch pots to minimize root damage during transplanting. Some sources recommend that the seeds should be placed in the shade until the first true leaves appear; others suggest full sun since the seeds tend to rot if kept too moist.

Lilleeng-Rosenberger's notes show scarified fresh seeds generally germinate in less than 1 week. Germination percentages for these seeds ranged from 72% to 100%.

To store seeds of Erythrina sandwicensis, remove them from their pods and air dry them at room temperature. Place them in a paper bag or envelope in an airtight container with a desiccant. Keep them in a cool place with about 25% relative humidity or in the refrigerator. (Bornhorst 1996; Criley 1998; Criley 1999; Lilleeng-Rosenberger 1996; NTBG 1992; NTBG 1996; Stratton 1998; Obata 1967; Wagner 1990)

Propagation by Cuttings
Erythrina sandwicensis can also be propagated by cuttings. This method can be used to insure that the new plants have the same flower color as the parent plant. Cuttings need to be taken when the parent plant is not in flower. Most sources recommend that large cuttings be taken with each cutting at least 1 1/2 inch in diameter and 1 1/2 to 2 feet long. Bornhorst suggests that cuttings can be as long as 6 feet. Each cutting should have at least three nodes. Stratton's article, on the other hand, suggests cuttings from 2 to 6 inches long and Rauch recommends tip cuttings.

If using large cuttings, plant the cuttings in one gallon pots using a well-drained medium such as 3 parts perlite to 1 part vermiculite. Keep the cuttings moist and in a shady area until they have rooted. Criley states that rooting hormone treatment would probably enhance speed of rooting, but no studies have been published on this. Weissich states that strong rooting hormone and intermittent mist improve results, but no specifics are given. (Bornhorst 1996; Criley 1999; NTBG 1992; Rauch 1997; Stratton 1998; Weissich 1995)

Propagation by Division
Not applicable.
Propagation by Air Layers
Erythrina sandwicensis can also be propagated by air layering. Criley states that rooting hormone treatment would probably enhance air layer rooting, but there are no published information on this. (Criley 1999; Rauch 1997; Stratton 1998)
Propagation by Grafting
No information located to date.
Propagation by Tissue Culture
No information located to date.
Bornhorst, Heidi L. 1990. Introduction to xerophytic native Hawaiian plants. The Bulletin of the National Tropical Botanical Garden 20 (3):49-54.

Bornhorst, Heidi L. 1996. Growing native Hawaiian plants: a how-to guide for the gardener. Honolulu: The Bess Press. p. 54-55.

Criley, Richard A. 1998. Propagation of indigenous and endemic ornamental Hawaiian plants. Combined Proceedings of the International Plant Propagators' Society 48:669-674.

Criley, Richard A. 1999. Aloha Hawai'i. American Nurseryman 190 (3):50-61.

Lilleeng-Rosenberger, Kerin. 1996. Plant propagation notebook. Unpublished materials: National Tropical Botanical Garden.

National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG). 1992. Wiliwili. In Native Hawaiian plant information sheets. Lawai, Kauai: Hawaii Plant Conservation Center. National Tropical Botanical Garden. Unpublished internal papers.

National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG). 1996. Ten native Hawaiian trees for urban landscapes. Lawai, Hawaii: Education and Plant Science Departments. National Tropical Botanical Garden.

Obata, John K. 1967. Seed germination in native Hawaiian plants. Newsletter of the Hawaiian Botanical Society 6 (3):13-20.

Rauch, Fred D., and David Hensley. 1997. Wiliwili, Ornamentals and Flowers, OF-10. Honolulu: Hawaii Cooperative Extension Service, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, University of Hawaii at Manoa. (Also available as a PDF file at Free CTAHR Publications.)

Stratton, Lisa, Leslie Hudson, Nova Suenaga, and Barrie Morgan. 1998. Overview of Hawaiian dry forest propagation techniques. Newsletter of the Hawaiian Botanical Society 37 (2):13, 15-27.

Wagner, Warren L., Darrel R. Herbst, and S. H. Sohmer. 1990. Manual of the flowering plants of Hawai'i. 2 vols., Bishop Museum Special Publication 83. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press and Bishop Museum Press. p. 671-672.

Weissich, Paul R. 1995. Hawaiian native plants in the landscape. Combined Proceedings International Plant Propagators' Society 44:332-335.

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The image in this record is used with permission from Dr. Gerald Carr's Web site "Hawaiian Native Plants" at

Last updated:
26 April 2001

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