This is not about us drifting along; it is about “drift seeds.” We never found a single one on our first visit to the Abacos, but Al’s discovery of one sea bean at Green Turtle Cay within the first two days of our arrival, changed our fortunes. Finding a sea bean is a sign of good luck, a good omen. Little did we realize how this first find would become a new beachcombing obsession for us, adding to the sea glass, shells and conchs, and driftwood that we acquire along the way. It sure is nice to have a larger “hold” in the boat for storing our treasures.
Our cruising friends showed us their sea bean finds on our first trip, but our eyes never seemed to notice any. This year, that first sea bean had us hooked and quickly trained our novice eyes, as well as hooking our curiosity (mine, for sure.) I learned that “sea beans” is a generic common name for these gems, and “drift seeds” is a more global and inclusive term. “Drift” is a very apropos name. Most of these seeds and beans are from vines and trees that grow along the tropical shores and rainforests all over the world.
They fall into waterways and drift through inlets and bays, reaching the sea where they travel with the ocean currents until washing up upon a beach somewhere, even thousands of miles from their “homeport.”
The buoyant beans and seeds are held afloat by internal air pockets and are protected by their hard outer shells. World travelers!
The wrack line is the line of debris left on the beach by high tide. Seaweed, kelp, assorted natural debris that floated in on the tide, as well as man’s debris in the form of plastic bits and other trash.
Until we started searching, both on the beach and on the internet, I had no idea how many people were obsessed with sea beans. A quick google search unearthed (unbeached?) lots of information and websites dedicated to drift seeds/sea beans. If you get hooked like we did, you can check the links below, or even attend a sea bean symposium (last one was October 2015 in Cocoa Beach, FL) or read the triennial newsletter, “The Drifting Seed.”
- Sea Bean – Best and most inclusive site for information
- The Drifting Seed newsletter (1995- 2015 online)
- Beach Beans – a site that sells sea beans
- BeachBeans blogspot – John Batchelder’s blog from 2008-2011
- WaynesWord “an online textbook of natural history, Palomar College
- Steve Asbell’s personal blog with a post on his sea beans
This blog post of mine is about the sea beans we found this winter in the Abacos.
The sea heart (Entada gigas), native to Central America, the Caribbean, northern South America, and Africa. Sea hearts originate in huge, hanging bean pods, up to six feet long. They are impervious to salt water, even after years of drifting in the ocean waters. Sailors carried sea hearts as good luck charms to protect them from sickness and to ward off the evil eye. It is said that a sea heart (also known as fava de Colom) inspired Christopher Columbus to set out in search of lands to the west.
Supposedly, sea hearts are second to brown hamburgers as the most common of all beach-found sea-beans. We did not find this to be true. We found more sea hearts than any other kind of sea bean or drift seed.
Polishing sea hearts is quite a task with several steps and lots of time.
Hamburger beans, said to be the most common of all beach found sea beans, are sometimes considered to be “true sea beans.” Our experience says otherwise – finding a hamburger bean was unusual. We were thrilled to find a brown one and then a red one.
There are hundreds of varieties in varying shades of brown, red, and brindle growing in tropical regions around the globe. Nowadays they are carried for good luck and protection against the “evil eye.”
Brown Hamburger, Mucuna sloanei , the most common of all beach-found sea-beans are more ball-shaped than other species which are flat in comparison. Tropical Africa, South America, Mexico, Florida and the Caribbean.
Red Hamburgers Mucuna urens are found less often than brown hamburgers. They are flatter and have more color variations from light beige to deep red.
Sea purse – Dioclea reflexa Coveted by collectors, sea purses are one of the rarest and most colorful of all sea beans found on any beach. Distinct color variations range from butterscotch to solid black. Originally from Asia, these beans have drifted to islands in the Caribbean and Central and South America, reproducing there. The circular hilum along the edge of these resembles a zipper, giving it the name “sea purse.” They have thick, protective shells which, enable them to survive for years at sea in the salt water.
Nickernuts or nickar nuts are used as marbles (Dutch word knicker for clay marbles) in the strategy games of African mancala or Caribbean’s “Island Waurie.”
The same day I found the brown nickarnut, I also picked up a funny looking bean or seed. With the help of “The Little Book of Sea Beans and Other Beach Treasures“, I identified it as a Starnut palm (Astrocaryum spp.) The Rainforest Garden Blog stated, “Some, like the starnut palm, are ridiculously tropical and exotic.” Very cool. I was excited to add this to our tiny collection of sea beans.
Sea coconut (Manicaria saccifera), is also known as “golf ball” because it is the size and shape of a round golf ball. It is not a real coconut, but it is a palm tree.The sea coconut is a tall, unusual palm with leaves nearly 30 feet long. It grows in the Amazon basin, on the island of Trinidad, and on the Caribbean coasts of Central and northern South America spottily. We found quite a few sea coconuts, but the outer skin would soon crack and crumble. They don’t look very attractive, and yet there are photos of how pretty they look after polishing. We aren’t sure how they can be polished with that crackling outer shell.
The mahogany or madeira tree is native to southern Florida, Florida Keys, Cuba, Bahamas, Hispaniola, Jamaica. I first noticed strange wooden-looking pods scattered about on the grounds of the Lighthouse Gift Shop when I worked there. They were very interesting looking so I gathered a few up. I had the opportunity to show it to a local person who informed me it was from the madeira tree also known as the mahogany tree.
Royal Poinciana is a species of flowering plant, noted for its fern-like leaves and flamboyant display of red flowers. When we found these pods along the side of the road on Treasure Cay, the plant was not in its “flamboyant” phase. The pods were dried and woody on the ground or hanging limply from the tree.