Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Coccoloba: The Sea Grapes

I've been watching the Sea grapes (Coccoloba uvifera) at Micro Beach, Saipan for a few weeks now and finally, some of the fruits have ripened. The trees are pretty tall and we didn't have a ladder nor a long stick to harvest the fruits, so Laurina and I resorted to picking the good ones from the grassy ground below. Don't they look appetizing? Sea grapes are plum-like in taste, sweet and a little tart, although there really isn't a lot of flesh in between the rough edible skin and the seed. It's a nice snack though when you're on the go boonie stomping or beachcombing. There are still a lot of fruit clusters that are in the process of ripening.. Try some, but if you're picking the fruits from the ground, you'll have to contend with the ants and give the fruits a quick rinse in fresh water. It was Laurina's first time trying them and she quickly became a fan.

Here are some unripe fruits. Uvifera is Latin for "bearing clusters of grapes" and they actually do look like grapes hanging from the trees. I read somewhere that people actually make wine out of sea grapes in the Caribbean Islands (a traditional Christmas drink) and others like to make jam since they are high in pectin (a gelling ingredient). It is supposedly one of the first beach plants Christopher Columbus encountered in that region.

The trees can grow up to 15 M (50 ft) and the leaves are leathery and attractive. Can you see the red veins of the round leaf? The Coccoloba's leaves turn red to brown as they mature making them a favorite subject for painters. Terry Denson has beautiful watercolors here. Sea grapes also inspire poetry and you can read the famous poem by 1992 Nobel Laureate in Literature Derek Walcott's poem by the same name here. In Bev's Scattered Thoughts, she writes about how she will soon change the title and layout of her blog. Denson's poem mentions the sea-wanderer, and I thought how perfect that name would be for me if and when I finally leave my beloved islands for a new place away from the waters of the deep blue sea.
Here's a picture of an early flower cluster from a small tree on top of the Forbidden Island look out in March. The trees were shrub-like and maybe too young still to fruit since the flowers were withered when I went back to the spot in July.

Ti napu.
The Beachcomber (and the future Sea-wanderer)


Bev said...

mmm, i'd love to try some sea grapes! I like your new title the sea wanderer. you're such a nomad. Miss ya!

The Beachcomber said...

Nomad? No, you're the nomad. I haven't been nomadic for 7 years now, but in all honesty I feel the need to pack up and go to a new place. I feel very dissatisfied, uninspired and disenchanted with life at the moment. Or, maybe I just miss Bev. Love ya, miss ya.

Mai said...

How come I never got to try sea grapes when I was there? They look yummy! Make me some jam and send it to me....or better yet, bring it when you come visit me! ;)