The Coral Snake Tree

The stark contrast between the pod and the seeds give the sirari its name.

One of my favorite ornamental street trees in Santa Cruz, Bolivia is the Siraricillo or Sirari. It is a member of the bean family, Fabaceae and the subfamily Mimosoideae. It is known for its distinctive twisted red seed pods (all pea species have pods) with black seeds. It resembles the southern coral snake hence the name in Bolivian Spanish, Sirari. 

The classic bipinnate compound leaf of Pithecellobium.

In the Guide to the Trees of Bolivia published by the Missouri Botanical Gardens, the tree’s scientific name is Pithecellobium angustifolium. I remember the genus Pithecellobium by the famous “Monkey Ear” tree, also with the twisted seed pods. The leaves are bipinnate with seven pairs of pinnae.  It is nice that USAid and the Missouri Botanical Garden have made the book available free for download. I bought an original copy back when it was published in 1998, but have it stored in Michigan.

It is not a very big tree and I guess because it is probably easy to cultivate, does not grow high to interfere with wires and has a distinctive pod, it is planted commonly in parks and along the streets of the city. The seeds are not edible. There is a neighborhood, school (Sirari Kids) and hotel named after the sirari so it is quite well known. The tree has fruits in June and October.

In my online research, I keep seeing the Jojoba sophorocarpa as an alternative to Pithecellobium angustifolium. If any reader can help me with this double name, please explain in the comments.

You can see the Mimosoideae flower in the upper left and the deeply crevassed bark.

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