Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the March 3, 2007 Newsletter issued from Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve, QUERÉTARO, MÉXICO

Nowadays one of the most striking flowering plants in peoples' yards, in fencerows and along roads is the crimson-blossomed Coral Tree, sometimes called Naked Coral Tree, probably because often the trees are leafless when they flower. They're ERYTHRINA CORALLOIDES, and you can see one I pass each time I visit Jalpan's market -- one retaining its leaves -- below:


The 20-ft-tall trees' large, three-leaflet leaves look a lot like snapbean and Kudzu leaves, but the branch-tip-clustered, scarlet, slender, slightly arced, two- inch-long flowers are very distinctive.

I've always heard that Coral Tree blossoms are edible. I asked Don Gonzalo about it and he agreed that they were. Therefore, this week on my return from the market I gathered a handful of flowers from the tree photographed above. I ate one raw and it tasted like raw beans, and that seemed to me a good sign, knowing how great cooked beans taste.

The next day I topped my solar-oven pot full of shredded cabbage, sliced jalapeños, onions, and two eggs looking at me from atop a crisp taco -- all atop a bed of pulque bread -- with my handful of scarlet Coral Tree flowers.

By noon the whole area smelled like baked onions and my meal was cooked to perfection. The blossoms had turned brown and leathery looking. Beyond that I couldn't see that they had much taste at all. Maybe Coral Tree flowers are one of those things that take on the taste of what they're cooked with, or maybe I cooked them wrong.

Whatever the case, from now on I'll just let them stay on the trees where they can make bees happy.