Monday, January 9, 2017

Parts of the whole...

As we return to our study of the seabeans / drift seeds that we have been finding we'll address beans / seeds that are only 'part' of the big picture. 

Finding the 'whole' in any of these cases after a long journey at sea is quite rare.  As a matter of fact, they are usually already in parts before they even reach the ocean.

First up is the Screw Pine.  A widespread Polynesian plant of the Pandanus genus it is native to Southern china, tropical Australia and Polynesia.  Pandandus is also common in Hawaii and is second only to the coconut palm in importance in Polynesia and Micronesia.

Just about everything on this plant is unique beginning with
its very obvious "prop roots" which help support the plants in
water-logged soil and strong winds.

Although it is called a "pine", the Screw Pine is actually more closely related to a palm.

pandandus flower
The Screw Pine keeps is male and female flowers separated on
different plants.  The male flowers (like the one pictured above)
are showy and very fragrant.

There is an old Hawaiian tale about lost fishermen adrift at sea who would find their way home via the fragrant flowers of the Hala (Hawaiian name for the Screw Pine).

The fruit, which it appears from our reading is the female flower, is pineapple-like in appearance and also very fragrant.

It is composed of numerous (40-80) single seed segments called "keys".  The keys are wedge shaped and 1 to 2 inches long. 

After several months, the fruit ripens and the keys
fall off exposing the soft edible pulp in the center.

This plant offers much in the way of resourcefulness.  Besides having many edible and medicinal parts, the leaves are used for making baskets, thatching, mats, grass skirts and canoe sails. 

screw pine necklace
In Samoan culture, the keys are used to make a necklace
called Ula Fala which is worn during special occasions.

So far we have found only three of these Screw Pine keys.  Here are some shots of ours.

             The patterns are really quite pretty.  They almost look like fire.

   Only about 60-70 more and we could put them together to replicate the whole fruit.

IMG_7460                                                  Patterns and Designs

                                               Patterns and Designs

Next up.... The Sandbox Tree.

Hura crepitans is a member of the spurge family that is native to tropical regions of North and South America including the Amazon Rainforest.

Hura crepitans grows 90 to 130 feet tall and can easily recognized
by its gray bark covered with cone-shaped spikes.

The tree has distinctly different male and female flowers.

Sandbox Male Flower
                     Sandbox Tree - Male Flower

Sandbox Female Flower
                   Sandbox Tree - Female Flower

As if the female flower isn't unique in its own right, once fertilized, this female flower produces a pumpkin-like seed pod.

      It is this pod which is at the root of Hura crepitans two distinct common names.

The first, Sandbox Tree, comes from the fact that the large seed capsule of this tree was used to hold sand as a blotter before the advent of paper blotters and ball point pins.


The second common name for this tree is the Dynamite Tree and the name is not to be taken in jest.

For the tension created by the varying rates of evaporation as these little pumpkins dry out literally turns them into deadly explosive devices. 

Once ripe, the pods explode with such force that seeds can be launched at speeds of up to 160 mph.  There is apparently also an explosive sound to the event as seeds and parts are sent in all directions up to 100 feet away from the tree.

It is said that this 'shrapnel' can seriously injure a person or animal that may be in its path.

          Shrapnel is what we have found on our beaches.  Three pieces so far.

If you would believe, the Sandbox Tree is considered one of the most dangerous trees in the world.  However, it is not simply due to its explosive personality.  Its reputation is a combination of many things.  The fruit is very poisonous and can induce vomiting, diarrhea and cramps.  The sap, which is very poisonous, as well, will cause an angry red rash that can blind you if it gets in your eyes.  Thus, it is successfully used to make poison darts.

Despite all of this, Hura crepitans has a few good sides.  The wood is used to make furniture, oil extracted from the seeds acts as a laxative, the leaves are said to treat eczema and extracts are reported to treat rheumatism and intestinal worms.

sandbox jewelry
Lastly, the portion of the shrapnel that we find has been found to look similar
to the shape of a dolphin and when worked with can created some neat jewelry.

sandbox jewelry 2

The final drifter in our parts of the whole tale is the Nypa fruticans (also known as the Nipa or Mangrove Palm.  The Nipa is native to South and Southeast Asia, northern Australia and Pacific Islands. It is also common in the estuaries and coasts of Indian and Pacific oceans.

Nipah palm with fruit bunch 2
The most unique thing about this palm is that its trunk
grows beneath the ground.  Only the leaves and flower
stalk grow upwards above the surface.

The leaves can extend up to 30 feet in height.

   The male (left) and female flowers of the Nipa.

Arecaceae; Nypa fruticans
     The fruit ball of the Nypa fruticans is a conglomeration of many seed pods.

Nipa Fruit
          They can grow quite large and are a commodity in their native lands.

Nypa Fruit
             Their soft young seeds are a delicacy in the tropical regions.

Syrups, vinegars and spices are made from this plant.  Medicinal uses include headache, toothache and herpes treatments.  The leaves are used for making thatching, brooms, bowls, mats, hats, bags or even umbrellas.  Nipa sap is being used to create biofuel and is also fed to pigs to make the pork meat taste sweeter.

We have found three of the Nypa fruticans seed pods on our beaches so far.

We are a long ways from having enough to formulate one of those impressive fruit balls.

                Still.... all of these drifters are fun to find and to learn about.