There are various different plants that are commonly referred to as coral plants, so it can be difficult to know which of these someone is talking about.
Coral plants are not to be confused with corals in the sea, as these are in fact animals that eat other organisms for sustenance. However, they are mainly named as such because they are reminiscent of coral reefs in some way, whether through their appearance or the nature in which they grow.
In this article, we explore the plant species that share the common name ‘coral plant’ and discuss the reasons why they take on this epithet.
You will also find pictures of each, along with some fun facts and interesting stats relating to them. If you wish to learn more, take a look at Candide Gardening or your online gardening encyclopedia of choice.
The reason why this evergreen climbing shrub is called a coral plant is probably obvious to you – it’s right there in the scientific name! Alternative names you might hear in relation to this species are coral vine and coral barberry, so listen out for these terms in gardening circles.
The berberidopsis corallina has bright pink flowers that hang down from its branches in clusters. Its leaves are dark green and ovular with shallow spines around the edges. The plant grows to between 4 and 8 meters in height, and between 0.5 and 1 meters in ground area. Its flowers bloom between summer and the beginning of autumn.
The berberidopsis corallina is native to Chile, but it can be grown in other regions as well. The natural habitat it occupies is usually deep within coastal woodlands and fertile ravines. Although it is sensitive to harsh winds, it is generally considered a hardy plant that can prosper well in the proper conditions.
This has helped its popularity to spread across much of South America, and you may even find it in parts of the world with cooler climates, such as the UK.
How To Grow
Suitable locations to grow it include greenhouses, courtyards, and cottage gardens – you can plant from scratch using seeds, cuttings or layered shoots from an existing plant. You should position it somewhere where it will get a lot of shade, so it doesn’t get disturbed by strong winds, and it also needs to be planted in acidic soil that is sand-based. It will take around 2-5 years to reach its eventual height.
Another evergreen shrub, this coral plant comes from the family Plantaginaceae and flowers from spring to autumn. Its other names include firecracker plant and fountain plant, but it also has the secondary scientific name of russelia equisetiformis (which means ‘the horsetail rush’ in Latin).
It is likely to be known as a coral plant due to the color of its flowers – they are a beautiful orange-pink hue that is often referred to as coral color.
This plant is characterized by bushy stems that hang downwards, looking almost like a broom. These can grow to over 1m in length and follow an arched trajectory towards the ground.
At the end of the stems are clusters of bell-shaped pink flowers, which are usually around 3 cm long (1.2 inches) and quite narrow. The leaves are small and don’t take long to drop off. An average russelia juncea plant is between 1m and 1.5m in height.
The russelia juncea is native to Mexico in the central America region. It is accustomed to warm climates with 6 hours of sun daily. Plants in the russelia genus can be either deciduous or evergreen, and some are semi-evergreen, so their leaves fall for only a limited amount of time.
How To Grow
Luckily, this plant is easy to care for once planted. If layering, you should do this in spring, or you can take cuttings at any point in the year. Grow the plant in a container filled with loam-based compost (preferred, although it will do fine in most types of soil), making sure it is protected with glass.
A feed with nutritious liquid plant food, and water every so often (less in winter). In summer, you can place it outside where it is somewhat sheltered but still gets plenty of sunlight. It is ideal for growing on balconies and flowerbeds, or in greenhouses.
The Guatemala rhubarb is yet another name for this particular coral plant that hails from the Euphorbia family. It is a tropical plant with coral-colored flowers that form branched heads like coral reefs, which is likely to be why it gets the name coral. These flowers attract various butterfly species, including Monarch and Zebra Longwing.
The coral flowers grow in large heads on stems that protrude above the leaves. Each head contains many individual flowers, all joined together by one large stem. It has vast, sprawling leaves with around 10 narrow separate leaflets on each, resembling palm leaves or Sativa leaves.
The color of these leaves is mid-dark green on the top, but almost white underneath, and there are many of them on little stalks. There is a single trunk down the centre of the plant.
Jatropha multifida is native to regions across North and South America: Brazil, Mexico and the West Indies. It must be kept in temperatures of at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit at all times, as it starts to lose its leaves once it hits 40 degrees or less. Its requirements correspond to US plant hardiness zones 10 and 11, which are ideal conditions for it to grow.
How To Grow
You will first need to make sure the soil you’re planting in has very good drainage – this coral plant is semi-succulent, meaning it is tolerant to drought and doesn’t need watering after it is settled in. It does require full access to the sun, so should be in a spot that is open and unobstructed.
Air layer in the springtime or use cuttings that are almost ripe to propagate the plant. It is susceptible to pests such as aphids and mealybugs, as well as diseases like fungal leaf spot – try to avoid it coming into contact with these where possible.
Once again, here is a plant species with ‘coral’ in its scientific name, giving you some idea of what it actually looks like. It comes from the Balanophoraceae family, having first been recorded in 2014. The plant is technically a parasite because it needs to latch onto a compatible host to be able to live.
This plant is unique in appearance, looking nothing like any of the above coral plants. It doesn’t have any chlorophyll, so there are no green leaves to be seen; instead, there are clumps of cylindrical branches that each measure up to 2 inches in length.
The leaves are actually a yellow colour and arrange themselves around the stems in rings of roughly 5 leaves. Each leaf is approximately 1 inch long and 0.6 inches wide on average. At the end of every stem, segment are racemes – these have white flowers in the male plants and smaller, yellow flowers in the female plants.
The balanophora coralliformis is found exclusively in the mossy forests on Mount Mingan, a mountain in the Philippines. Only 50 separate plants of this kind have ever been observed, so it is incredibly rare in the grand scheme of things. However, it is not considered to be endangered. It has to be at high altitudes to survive – between 4800 and 5700 feet – but illicit agricultural activities have sometimes compromised its natural habitat.
How To Grow
Not much is currently known about propagating the species, as it is a significant recent discovery and there are so few populations of the plant across a very restricted area.
However, we do know that it has to grow on tree roots in order to thrive, due to its parasitism, and it must also be planted at a height. It is thought that this plant cannot be grown in other places, because of its very specific requirements.
Now you have learnt about some of the main plants that can be known as coral plants, you will recognize how varied this subgroup is. The plants come from different families and look distinct from one another, but all have some kind of connection with coral reefs, usually either in color or shape.
This can make it confusing to know exactly which one someone is talking about when they say ‘coral plant’, so make sure you clarify this with them. Of course, you will often be able to tell from context – they may be talking about growing the plants, what they look like, or whereabouts in the world they are.
Nevertheless, it is still good to check to avoid misunderstandings. Whichever one you mean in each situation, you can be sure you’re discussing a very interesting plant species that few people get the chance to see in their lifetime.