Colin Mills, compiler of the Hortus Camdenensis, died in late November 2012 after a short illness. As he always considered the Hortus his legacy, it is his family's intention to keep the site running in perpetuity. It will not, however, be updated in the near future.

Erythrina x bidwillii ‘Camdeni’

A cultivar of Erythrina x bidwillii Lindl. which is a hybrid of Erythrina herbacea L. x Erythrina crista-galli L.  A sterile hybrid produced at Camden.  Both parents were grown at Camden Park.  Refer to the appropriate Hortus entry for details of the parents.  Half-hardy, large, deciduous shrub or small tree, depending on growing conditions, with robust, sparsely-branched, spiny stems, leaves composed of 3 obovate to cordiform leaflets, the flowers borne in small axillary clusters and terminal racemes, to 30cm or more long, in summer.  Several plants identified as Erythrina x bidwillii survive in the Royal Melbourne Botanic Gardens.  All are small to medium trees and appear to be of considerable age.  These plants conform with the description and figure of Erythrina bidwillii Lindl. in the Botanical Register, quoted here.  This evidence, together with the presence in the Melbourne gardens of several plants identified as Erythrina x bidwillii var. ‘Blakei’, which see, strongly suggests that they are identical with William Macarthur’s Erythrina Camdeni and Erythrina Blakei respectively.  Appropriate botanical names would seem to be Erythrina x bidwillii Lindl. ‘Camdeni’ and Erythrina x bidwillii Lindl. ‘Blakei’.  In Melbourne ‘Camdeni’ conforms more to the growth habit of the E. crista-galli parent in that it grows into a tree, to 6m or more under suitable conditions.  The flower shoots are green rather than the purple of ‘Blakei’.  The flowers are a brilliant intense red colour, approaching more to scarlet in ‘Camdeni’ rather than the rich vermillion of ‘Blakei’, much brighter than either parent, equally striking in bud and with the large standard expanded.  The flowers are longer, narrower and straighter than 'Blakei' and tend to drop before opening fully.  Our observations to date are that ‘Camdeni’ produces fewer flowers than ‘Blakei’ and spot flowers rather than producing a spectacular show in spring, as does ‘Blakei’.  [RHSE, personal observations]. 

‘Camdeni’ has only recently been re-introduced to Camden Park but has so far been reasonably winter hardy, subject to frosting of tender growth, although it must be stated that the single winter that our young plants have withstood was very mild with only 2 or 3 very light frosts.  We expect it to be similar to its sibling Erythrina x bidwillii Lindl. var. ‘Blakei’ and William Macarthur’s comments to Conrad Loddiges seem to confirm this.  Macarthur sent plants on 16th April 1846 and wrote: ‘The varieties of Erythrina are both well worth cultivating and are about as hardy as E. cristagalli from which they are derived by crossing.  Their flowers although somewhat smaller are of much more brilliant colour.’  [MP A2933-1, 147].   In ‘Blakei’ the unripe growth is quite frost tender and shoots die back in winter to the harder, ripened wood.  In frost-free conditions semi-ripened wood will survive the winter.  It does vary in leaf, those of ‘Camdeni’ being larger and broader and relatively flattened from tip to apex.

Horticultural & Botanical History

In a note published by John Lindley in the Botanical Register, William Herbert describes its introduction to England: ‘This plant was sent to me at Spofforth [where it first flowered in England] by Mr. Bidwill from Sydney.  I am not sure whether it was raised by himself or by Mr Macleay.  It is a hybrid production, from E. herbacea, impregnated by E. cristagalli, and is remarkable as being, I believe, the only certain hybrid papilioniaceous plant we have.  It is a very beautiful plant of intermediate habits.  Its vigorous shoots die down to the root after flowering, and have leaves of an intermediate form approaching in colour and gloss rather to those of the Carolina E. herbacea.  The flowers are of intermediate size and colour; but like those of E. cristagalli, borne by threes at the axils of the leaves as well as on a terminal spike, while those of E. herbacea are borne on a leafless spike proceeding from the root.’  [BR t.9/1847].  

History at Camden Park

Listed in the 1845, 1850 and 1857 catalogues [T.424/1845].  Herbert was incorrect in his assumptions about its origin.  It was raised by William Macarthur who named it Erythrina camdeni.  It seems that Bidwill suggested the name Erythrina macarthuri when he took it to England and presented it to Herbert.  A plant believed for some time to be Erythrina x bidwillii survives in the Camden Park gardens, growing in a hedge of Wisteria sinensis in a sheltered position close to the house, but whether this plant was ‘Camdeni’ or ‘Blakii’ was not known until recently.  Comparison with specimens labelled E. x bidwillii and E. x bidwillii ‘Blakei’ at the Royal Melbourne Botanic Garden identifies this plant as the latter.  Unfortunately the provenance of the RMBG plants is not known and we can only speculate on their source.  Ferdinand Muller, Director of the Melbourne Botanic Garden between 1857 and 1873, was a great friend of William Macarthur, indeed Muller named a plant, Randia macarthuri, in honour of William.  It seems likely that Macarthur gifted the plants to Muller for the Melbourne garden.


Several trees labelled Erythrina x bidwillii are also growing in the Brisbane Botanic Garden, at Mount Coot-tha.  Some of these may well be ‘Blakei’, they appear to conform in leaf shape and size and in flower.  They are growing as small, gnarled and twisted trees, quite different to both ‘Blakei’ and ‘Camdeni’ at the RMBG.  However the growing conditions are quite different, sub-tropical at Brisbane, temperate at Melbourne with very cool winters.  One of the plants at Brisbane is a larger, more upright tree and has somewhat larger leaves, more resembling those of the RMBG ‘Camdeni’.  The flowers conform to Erythrina x bidwillii.  At present I have no information on the provenance of these trees. 

Erythrina x bidwillii is also recognised in the USA, generally regarded locally as a hybrid originating in the USA.  I have been unable to determine the provenance of these plants but there appear to be at least two distinct forms.

Of course the plants found outside Camden Park may be the progeny of a subsequent cross between Erythrina herbacea L. and Erythrina crista-galli L. and not derived from William Macarthur’s original crosses.  In this case the botanic name Erythrina x bidwillii Lindl. is correct but the varietal names ‘Camdeni’ and ‘Blakei’ would not apply.

Published Apr 05, 2009 - 12:11 PM | Last updated Jul 29, 2011 - 02:11 PM

Illustrated are the obovate leaves and vermillion red flowers.  Botanical Register f.9, 1847.

Erythrina x bidwillii Lindl. | BR f.9/1847 | RBGS


Family Fabaceae
Region of origin

Garden origin, Camden Park

  • Erythrina camdeni Hort. ex Macarthur


Common Name

Camden coral tree

Name in the Camden Park Record

Erythrina Camdeni (herbaceo – crista-galli) - Camden coral tree


Confidence level high