Sunday, November 13, 2016

Sea-beans and Drift-seeds 101

Nicole's new hobby has really taken off and she is learning a lot.  Darlene has even gotten into looking for special drifters as she walks and picks up trash. 

In the last few days we've encountered several folks who thanked us for our trash gathering and who had also noticed we had a different bag that 'other things' were going into.  "What are you putting in the other bag?" has become a question we get often and our explanation has many of the folks intrigued with the whole Sea Bean and flotsam collecting idea.

Hard to imagine in only a months time we've learned enough to educate others.  It has been fun.

So, on that note, thought we'd give you a closer look and will begin with some of the more frequently found drifters.  Bet they'll be familiar.  Most people see these on the beach and rarely give them a second thought.  That may change for you after reading this.

But first... What is a Sea-bean or Drift-seed? 

Essentially they are seeds or fruits that (typically) originate from rivers and streams and are carried to the ocean where they drift along with the currents until making landfall on some distant shore. 

    This ocean currents chart gives you a general idea of how a drifter can travel.

The interesting thing is that many of these plants are not "sea" plants but more amazon / jungle based.  Their fruits or pods are quite buoyant however (typically due to internal air pockets) and they are also durable which allows them to survive their long distant voyages.

There are over 200 different types of sea-beans that ride the currents to Florida. 

Well, let's get to the start of our collection.

The first we will show you is the Sea Heart.

Not all Entada gigas possess a true heart shape.  The majority though (with a little imagination) do harbor a certain likeness.

The coolest fact about these beans is that they grow on massive vines and come from the largest pea pods in the world.  Some of the pods are over six feet long (the world's longest legume) and have taken on the nickname of Monkey Ladders.

Entada Gigas Pod
                  Web acquired photo showing a good sized Entada giga pod.

Next coolest fact is that they grow in the rainforests of the Caribbean, Central and South America.  Incredibly, before they even reach the ocean, these Sea Hearts have to navigate thousands of miles of winding Amazon River.  Some have been discovered on beaches in Europe which means a journey of 3000-6000 miles on ocean currents.  And, yes, they are typically still viable even after years adrift.

Sea Hearts are believed to bring protection and guidance.  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.

Nicole has one that she's kept with her for over thirty years. 

Next up... The Sea Coconut or Golf Ball.

Do not let those common names fool you.  We are not referring to what you would typically think of when you hear those terms.  We are talking about Manicaria saccifera - the Troolie Palm.  Yeah, that!

Sea Coconut (1)
The one on the left still has the rough outer coating on it.  The one on the right is more what you would find when walking on the beach.  They say that finding one with the 'skin' still on is rare but Nicole has found several...

Sea Coconut (2)
                                    ... including this interesting 'pair'...

                                  ... and this one - on the half-shell!

Word on the web is that the Troolie Palm is a stunning and very unusual palm from southern Belize, the Caribbean coast of Central America and northern South America as well as much of the Amazon.  The leaves are simple but stately and can reach up to 26ft long!  In the Amazon the leaves have been used as sails for small boats and were long the preferred palm for thatching.

                                    Pilfered photo of the Troolie Palm

While some beans don't seem to break down much at all during their travels, the sea coconut arrives on our shores in various stages of undoing.

        This one looks a little undecided about wanting that outer coating or not.

Sea Coconut (4)
                                      These two are very well traveled.

Although we have been picking up beans simply because we can, many folks like to collect sea-beans to make jewelry and other fancy stuff.  The Sea Coconut is a favorite amongst the polishing crowd as they take on some wonderfully surprising looks.

An internet acquired photo shows them all polished up; each one is unique in its own way.

Last on our list of frequently sighted ocean wanderers for this time around is Canavalia rosea more commonly known as the Bay Bean or Beach Pea.

These are a fun little bean to find.

Bay Bean
                                  As you can see, they are quite colorful.

Although you may have to look closely to find them mixed in amongst similarly colored seaweed, these beans are found in high numbers.

The Beach Bean plant has a pan-tropical distribution and can be found on pretty much any beach with a tropical'ish climate.  Despite that, the ones that we find on our beaches have most likely still drifted some distance before landing on our shores as we often discover them mixed in with the fresh seaweed.

beach bean 2
Do you recognize the flower in this internet acquired photo?  If you've been to a tropical beach chances are good that you have seen it.  The Beach Pea / Bay Bean flower has that distinctive Pea Family look.

The beans of this plant grow in pods.  Nicole has found two of these pods so far.

                                   This one still seemed a little too new.

      This one held a little more promise so Nicole completed a careful dissection.

                                                  It's quintuplets!

There is a story circulating that this plant helped James Cook circumnavigate the globe in 1770.  He used it to feed his crew.  However, care had to be taken because beach beans also contain cyanide and alkaloids.  The poisons can be eliminated if the beans are properly prepared but that brings up another problem: taste.  Apparently, it isn't very appetizing.

Well, that concludes our introduction to Sea-beans and drifters this time around.  The collection is growing by leaps and bounds so there will surely be more where this came from.

Peace, Love and Sandy Feet.