Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Sojourning Seeds

A stranded drifter
How long were you lost at sea
Sea bean on the sand

Sea beans are seeds or fruits that wash into the sea, drift for some time and then get washed ashore. They are also called drift seeds or beans. There are a handful of different kinds that you can find on Saipan that usually wash up on the eastern beaches. I am still trying to figure our if it is sustainable to include see beans for my project. The above picture is that of a kukui nut (Aleurites moluccana) which I originally thought drifted from Hawaii. I've been finding quite a bit of them lately.

The sea heart (Entada gigas) is a well known sea bean because of its curious shape, big size, and high polish. The ones I've found are dark brown and have a very hard covering making them appear like wood carved hearts. Sea heart vines are lianas (woody, long-stemmed and rooted on the ground). Parts of the thick vines grow ribbon-like and this prompted the common name, monkey ladder vine. I haven't seen these vines growing on Saipan. It would be interesting to find since they own the record for bearing the largest seed pods (over 5 ft. or 1.5m).
Another monkey ladder vine is the snuff box bean (E. rheedii) since the hard seed covering was used as snuff boxes. In Chamorro it is called, bayogon dankulo (kneecap, big) and the seeds are reddish brown, almost rectangular in shape and are supposedly poisonous. The leaves and stems are used in traditional medicine. Its synonym is E. pursaetha and another common name is the African dream herb since its leaves are dried and smoked there supposedly to induce vivid dreams.

I do not have a lot of information about this beautiful marble-like seed. They are also called glass eye vine (Oxyrhynchus volubilis). I usually find them covered in a beige, corky layer that need to be scrapped off to reveal the shiny black to dark brown seeds.


The sea purses we mostly see here are Dioclea wilsonii. They somewhat resemble our local bayogo (Mucuna gigantea) but are generally bigger and the hilum (where the seed attached to the seed pod) has a bright yellow border.

Does it look like a tiny purse? See the yellow border of the hilum?
Most sea purses I've found are reddish brown but this one (my favorite amongst) is mottled in color. I still need to clean this one up since it had goose barnacles (Lepas sp.) attached to it (white specks).

Burney in Old English means "island brook". We know these seeds locally as bayogon dikike (pronounce the y sound as a z) which literally means "knee cap small". Most of the ones I've collected are from the vine. They range in color from light to dark brown or mottled with black like the ones below. These seeds are the basis of the bayogo (bojobo) doll industry, seed leis and are extensively collected in the Mariana Islands. Like bayogon dankulu it is used in traditional medicine. Scientifically it is called Mucuna gigantea and like most of its family members, their seed pods have stinging hairs (trichomes) so you have to be careful collecting them. More on this on another post!
Hamburger beans (Mucuna sloanei) are a joy to find washed up on the beach. They are smaller in diameter and rounder than sea purses. The surface of the seed is polished but rough and the hilum is thick and dark.
Does this really look like a hamburger?
I was first made familiar with the kukui or candlenut (Aleurites molucanna) out of Hawaii's seed leis so I thought these were mainly from Polynesia. I now know that they are native in Asia and they even grow as close to us as Pohnpei. Maybe that's why they are pretty common drift seeds here. They polish quite nicely and I may have enough to put together for an authentic seed lei. Problem is if the seed inside is rotten, it is oily and pretty stinky so I will have to find a way to remedy those two problems. I haven't had much luck locating trees on Guam nor here on Saipan.
That's a nice shine! The seeds really take a good polish. Also, the oil inside the seed really does burn like a candle.


Finding Mary's bean (Merremia discoidesperma) this past weekend was quite a surprise! This drift bean holds the record of having the longest drift of 15,000 miles (24,000 km). Sure other sea beans can stay buoyant longer potentially drifting father, but where they originally came from is hard to determine. Mary's bean has a limited range growing only in Mexico and Central America though.

Mary's bean has been found as far up north as Norway. If the record distance was set by beans found in the Republic of the Marshall Islands (Bikini and Wotho Atolls) then we may have a record breaker in our hands! Old Man by the Sea, Saipan, CNMI is farther than the RMI!
Because of the cross-like indentation on the "top" side of the bean, it has religious significance to some people. It is named after Mary, the mother of Christ and is also known as the Crucifixion or Crucifix bean. It is supposed to be good luck to carry one and women in labor carry them to ease the pain. Some of these are heirlooms being passed from one generation to the next.This is the record breaker's "bottom" showing the hilum, the scar where it once attached to its fruit.

I love the unique look of the Gray nickarbeans (Caelsalpinia bonduc). They look like small gray eggs with parallel fracture lines. Nicker is a Jamaican word that came from the Dutch knickker, a baked clay marble. The Chamorros however locally call them, pakao. They are used in traditional medicine. Incidentally, bonduc came from the Tagalog word for mountain, bundok. Boondocks is also a Western derivative that means backwoods or out of way place.

I finally found some Gray nickarbean vines. They are pretty spiny which led to another common name, wait-a-bit vine. I am going to have to return to the spot see when they flower and bear fruits.
These aren't seed but are part of the woody part of the screwpine (Pandanus tectorius) fruit. I've used screwpine leaves for cordage but these specimens are so pretty that it looks easy to craft them into things. These are lightly sanded and once coated with tung oil. My BFF, Laurina, thinks they look kind of spooky because the holes look like the eyes and mouth of the grim reaper. I don't see it but do you?
This one is probably from a different Pandanus species that I've yet to identify. It's probably not from here since we really only have 2 species locally. It is pretty nonetheless!
I have found other interesting drift seeds and sea beans to share later. I finally identified a pretty weird looking black seed that felt and looked like a plastic ball. It turned out to be palm nuts from a species of prickly palm trees (Acrocomia mexicana) that grown in South America and West Indies. I didn't have any picture so I will have to share later.Hope you liked my stories. Check this and this which are other sites that are chock full of information on sea beans and drift seeds.

Ti napu.

The Beachcomber

P.S. I misidentified the Little marbles and you can read about their true identity here.


Drea said...

I like the sea purses and the ones in the second to the last picture. I've never noticed any of those here.

Anonymous said...


I have a question. I'm a diver/beachcomber on Saipan and I'm always running into cowhrie shells, etc. that I'd like to collect. But I don't because I fear it's not sustainable. In your opinion, what objects can we collect and what should we leave in the environment?


Sean said...

Great post, BC. The pictures of the drift seeds are beautiful too!

Mai said...

Your discoveries never cease to amaze me! Those are beautiful!!! what are you going to do with them? Some of them would make really lovely jewelry! :)

The Beachcomber said...

Drea- I 1st noticed drift beans on Guam. We should have some of the same. Happy hunting!

Sean- Are you going to Florida anytime? It would be interesting to see what you can find. Miss you all!

Mai- Seed jewelry for some. It may be hard to do because the collector in me wants to just keep them intact & admire them.

"D"- Check out my entry called Beachcombing (Aug. 22, 2009) that has basic information & links re. Fish & Wildlife rules (what and where to collect and not collect)& the Sheller's Creed. I generally collect only what I need and usually what are already dead. You should connect with other local collectors too as well as our awesome marine biologists.

Anonymous said...

Thank you.


Deece said...

Okay the last picture looks like a bug. I'm sorry. I'm just saying.

This is all very cool! I had no idea the kukui nut had oil in it. We were at this Crazy Toy (I think that's the name) store in Garapan yesterday, just down and across the street from Country House, and it had these little turtles fashioned out of seeds like some in your post. I took a picture to show you, but I'll need to get it off my phone first.

Adrienne said...

Hi. I found you via search on Yahoo, looking for info on a "bean" I received while visiting Jamaica in March. It looks like the hamburger beans pictured here, and is rounded and kinda oval, but brown on top and bottom where yours are reddish, and has greyish "outlines" around the middle and black in between and has a "seam" and a "navel". I could upload a picture. I love your site.

Blondmyk said...

Love your site! I live in South Texas, USA (Corpus Christi/Padre Island) and enjoy beaning as a hobby. There is a season for it here that runs from February to March, usually when huge bunches of Sargasm from the Sargasso sea start polluting the beaches. This stuff is FULL of beans, but you have to take a stick and kinda push the sea weed around.

Do you know of a method of cutting into Sea Hearts to turn them into snuff boxes? I can't seem to find a site that will give me instructions? Let me know, and thanks in advance!



Anonymous said...

Hi. I am from India. I found a seed that I believe to belong the category snuff box bean. I found it on the shore of a beach in Chennai five to six years back. Can you please post a picture of its tree?

Paul said...

Nice Blog! I believe that the photos of "Brown Hamburger Bean" are actually "Red Hamburger Beans", Mucuna urens.

The Beachcomber said...

Whoa! It's been a while, folks but it seems like we still get traffic on the ea bean post!
Blondmyk- I would try a Dremel tool with a circular saw bit!
Anonymous- It's actually a vine; type "monkey ladder" on the search bar; I think I have a pic here somewhere.
Paul- Thanks! Makes sense!

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Sara Martinez said...

I want some of those seeds. What can I do?