PLANT: Erythrina herbacea, also known as coral bean and sometimes cherokee bean.
ORIGIN: Florida native.
CHARACTERISTICS: This spiny shrub or small tree makes a spectacular spring display of pinkish red-tubular flowers, sometimes attracting hummingbirds as they migrate during late April and May. Leaves come after the blooms; they're bright green and ivy-shaped, and appear by June. (NOTE: The bright red seeds, which appear in fall, are poisonous to humans.)
GROWING TIPS: Oak leaves or other mulch can simulate the leafmold of native woods where this plant thrives. It is most attractive when planted where its flowers will be seen against a blue sky. Coral bean is drought-tolerant but also does well in irrigated landscapes. Pruning can produce more flowers.
SHOWN: An old, gnarled Erythrina given new life when cut back severely by Floretta George at her St. Petersburg home.
_ BETTE SMITH, Times gardening correspondent