Drifting Along ….. Drift Seeds and Sea Beans

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.

2purple fan and seaheart

Purple fan and sea heart. The first sea bean, a sea heart, next to a purple fan coral, both found at Green Turtle Cay.

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.

Looking at this graphic of the ocean currents impresses one with just how far the seeds and beans drift.

Looking at this graphic of the ocean currents impresses one with just how far the seeds and beans drift.

 

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.

Wrack lines

Some days there would be almost no wrack line, other days there would be a wide heavy wrack, but usually the wrack line was somewhere in-between.

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.”

This blog post of mine is about the sea beans we found this winter in the Abacos.

One in my hand, in its natural, newly found on the beach, condition.

This sea heart, in my hand, in its natural condition, newly found on the beach.

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.

Eight of our sea hearts lined up,

Eight of our sea hearts lined up, natural on the left to polished ones on the right.

Polishing sea hearts is quite a task with several steps and lots of time.

I started with 180 grit sandpaper, followed by 400 and 600 grit. There were times when the skin on my thumb felt as though it were getting polished as well.

I started with 180 grit sandpaper, followed by 400 and 600 grit. There were times when the skin on my thumb felt as though it were getting polished as well.

When I tired of working on a bean, Al took over. He wore gloves when using the sandpaper, but then soon turned to his power sander. He then gave some of the beans quite a shine with finishing compound and the buffing machine.

When I tired of working on a bean, Al took over. He wore gloves when using the sandpaper, but then soon turned to his power sander. He then gave some of the beans quite a shine with finishing compound and the buffing machine.

Two of the beans with a high sheen after Al finished polishing.

Two of the beans with a high sheen after Al finished polishing.

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.”

hamburgers and a sea purse

On the right – Our two hamburgers, one red and one brown. On the left, my finger holds a sea purse from rolling.

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 purseDioclea 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. 

We found one brown nickernut. I'm surprised I even noticed it in the wrack.

We found one brown nickernut (Caesalpinia globulorium). I’m surprised I even noticed it in the wrack.

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.

Two views of my little starnut palm

Two views of my little starnut palm – The starnut palm has the most interesting shape resembling a black tear drop.There is a pattern of lines down the seed and 3 tiny holes in the bulbous base.

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.

We kept five of the sea coconuts we found, but are not sure just what we will do with them yet.

We kept five of the sea coconuts we found, but are not sure just what we will do with them yet.

 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.

Madiera pods

The grayish brown wooden conical fruit splits like an umbrella causing brown winged seeds to fall to the ground. The seeds disperse leaving the interestingly shaped inner part still on the stem.

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.

Royal Poinc collage

Al is holding the long pod that contains the small seeds, shown on the right. Lower left is a look at the pods hanging in the tree.

On our last day on Elbow Cay, Sam gave a necklace he made.

On our last day on Elbow Cay, Sam gave me a necklace that he made from nickarnuts and royal poinciana seeds. The nickarnut in the center is a gray one, also known as a “sea pearl.” I wore this necklace during every nautical mile of our crossing days to keep us safe. It worked!

A new collection ( or a new obsession?) A plate full of sea beans!

A new collection ( or a new obsession?) A plate full of sea beans!

 

5 thoughts on “Drifting Along ….. Drift Seeds and Sea Beans

  1. I have one on my table we picked up in Mexico!! I had no idea what it was. It’s a sea bean. Awesome to read about this. Also have several black “hamburgers”. I thought they were called deer eyes. Because they look like a deer eye. Thanks for sharing.

    • Once we discovered sea beans we became obsessed with finding them on the beaches in the Bahamas. There is nothing better than a natural treasure that you find yourself. 😉

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