I was recently in Los Angeles and saw some of the most beautiful trees there! I would like to identify them, and am turning to your expertise for this. They are very large and leafless (currently anyhow) with red blossoms. The branches often twist and grow amid eachother. The bark seemed similar to a baobab, or plumeria - smooth and more reminiscent of skin than bark somehow. Seems to be tropical or sub-tropical; they reminded me of Africa, but that was just an impression. The below description and picture of Western Coral Bean
(Erythrina flabelliformis) seems very similar, but this says it's a shrub and doesn't get very large. These were huge trees...
Description A shrub or small tree, leafless much of the year, with prickly stems and leafstalks, and long, bright red flowers in racemes near ends of the branches.
Flowers: to 3" (7.5 cm) long, basically "pea-like," but modified so that the upper petal (banner) is straight and beak-like, nearly hiding 4 lower petals; calyx waxy white, nearly without lobes.
Leaves: compound, with 3 leaflets, each to 3" (7.5 cm) long.
Fruit: pod, with several large, scarlet, bean-like seeds.
Height: to 15' (4.5 m), but usually much shorter.
Flowering:March-May, also September.
Can you help me identify these trees? Thanks very much for your time.
Coral Bean, Erythrina flabelliformis
can grow to be quite tall in favorable conditions, and it is possible that the tree you saw in Los Angeles is getting some extra care. Also, it could be a different species that gets larger, but I have not seen any mention of that in the literature.
Coral Bean Tree, or Erythrina herbacea, has a completely different look. It has the smooth bark you mentioned along with the stunning blooms, but it has leaves for much of the growing season and is not a desert plant. So my guess is that you have the Erythrina flabelliformis. If this is not the plant you saw then please get back in touch and we'll give it another whirl.