Lucky-beans (mutiti) – a great garden tree

By Prof. Ross G. Cooper

Lucky-beans (mutiti) (Erythrina spp.) (Fig.’s 1 & 2) are hard, orange-red seeds that are ejected from a pod usually of 4-6 rounded sections and subsequently scattered on the ground. They are often a delight for children and adults to pick up. Germinating they eventually produce a lovely, broad-leafed shade tree which is a wonderful addition to a school, sunny garden, park or industrial office site. This tree heralds another delightful symbol of Zimbabwe’s natural (floral) beauty.

The lucky bean tree is identified by its beautiful red flowers and its branches have a few thorns. The bark is grey and scaly with shallow cracks and is sometimes corky in appearance. The flowers are numerous and appealing on the end of branches from June-September, prior to the appearance of the leaves. The fruit develops from November-February and is a black, circular long necklace-like pod that contains up to six bright, shiny red seeds each with a characteristic black spot. The wood is soft and used by carpenters to make stools, toys and drums. The bark and roots are sometimes used by traditional healers. The corky bark can be used as a float when fishing. The seeds are used to make bracelets, necklaces, curios and embedded in natural resins to make paperweights. However, they can be poisonous causing an upset stomach if eaten crushed.

They can be collected and individually planted in holes about 2cm in depth in pots in well-drained, humus-enriched soil. They should be well-watered and placed in a sunny area. Germination takes a few months and once about 30cm in height, they can be transplanted to a permanent site. There they should be watered and occasionally pruned. The tree eventually grows to a tremendous height and provides welcome shade against a hot sun. However, one can retain the small tree in a pot and prune it into an impressive bonsai. Why not have a go and grow this impressive plant as it may bring you good luck!     

Background: the author is a keen plant cultivator and started this hobby from an early age having learnt the necessary skills from his paternal Grandfather, watching his father, learning from the Harare National Botanical Garden, reading books and being self-taught. Appreciating the outdoors, he successfully and enthusiastically grew many plants in gardens in Avondale and Vainona, Harare, Zimbabwe.

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Images provides by Prof. Ross G. Cooper

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Email: rgcooperuk@yahoo.com

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