This is a very attractive shrub with striking red and green flowers.
The genus name is derived the Greek "erythros" = red,
referring to the bright red flowers typical of many species in this
genus. Acanthocarpa is also derived from Greek, "akanthos"
meaning thorn and "karpos" meaning fruit, in reference
to the spiny pods.
This attractive shrub occurs naturally in the Queenstown district
in the Eastern Cape Province, South Africa, an area once known as
Tambukiland (hence tambookie thorn). The plant is endemic to this
and possibly adjacent districts and occurs nowhere else in the world.
In its natural habitat, the plants often form low thickets and covered
large tracts of land. Early travellers reported these areas to be
a blaze of red during spring and early summer when it is flowering,
but sadly the plant is no longer as common.
The tambookie thorn is a much branched, deciduous, thorny shrub
reaching up to 2m in height. The striking flowers are scarlet with
the upper petal edged with green and are held in heads up to 10cm
long and about 12cm wide.
The leaves are compound with three leaflets and bear numerous hooked,
sharp, purplish-black prickles. The brown pods are up to 12cm long,
constricted between the seeds and are armed with prickles (hence
the specific name "acanthocarpa"). The seeds are
brown and larger than those of other local Erythrina species.
They are reportedly used as a charm against evil.
An interesting feature of this plant is its greatly enlarged undergound
rootstock. There are reports dating from the 1860s that the succulent
underground "root" is extremely light when dry, and in
this state was sometimes made into light summer hats, hence the
name pith helmets.
Growing Erythrina acanthocarpa
This is a very attractive shrub when in flower and makes an excellent
garden specimen. Care should be taken not to plant it alongside
paving as the large underground rootstock may cause the paving to
lift. It performs best in a full sun position planted in well drained
soil. Do not overwater and keep relatively dry in winter. It is
The tambookie thorn was introduced into cultivation in greenhouses
in England in the early 1800s. It is reported to be long-lived in
cultivation. Unfortunately this very attractive shrub is difficult
to find in nurseries. It is fairly easily grown from seed, but cuttings
are difficult to strike.
- Batten,A & Bokelmann,H (1966) Wild flowers of the Eastern
Cape Province. Books of Africa : Cape Town
- Gledhill, E. (1981). 2nd ed. Eastern Cape Wild Flowers.
Cape Provincial Administration : Cape Town.
- Hennessy, E.F (1972). South African Erythrinas. Natal
Branch Wildlife Protection Society : Durban.
- Jackson, W.P.U. (1990). Origins and Meanings of Names of
South African Plant Genera. Cape Town.
- Pole Evans, I.B.(ed)(1926) Flowering Plants of South Africa.
Plate 203. Speciality Press : Johannesburg.
- Smith, C.A. (1966). Common Names of South African Plants.
Botanical Survey Memoir No. 35. Dept of Agricultural Technical
Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden