The Secret Lives of Sea Beans

These tiny visitors to our shores have many stories to tell-- stories of exotic lands and long ocean voyages.
A serving of sea beans: At the top, the Tropical Almond, which falls from a tree that can grow up to a height of 90 feet. It originated in India but is now distributed throughout the tropical world. And second, two Sea Hearts represent a group of drift seeds that develop in the giant (four- to seven-foot) fruit pods of a Caribbean vine.

When visiting the beach, many of us make a point of avoiding the strip of debris that the sea deposits on the shore. We may notice the tangle of seaweed, step over it and be on our way. But then we would be missing a beachcomber’s treasure trove right beneath our feet.
It is called the “wrack” and it has a story to tell. Every item that washes ashore in the midst of the net of seaweed has made a journey – sometimes thousands of miles – and can tell a tale that embraces geography, botany, oceanography, and even history, folklore and spirituality.

Upon closer examination, one discovers that the wrack contains quite a variety of items, animal, vegetable and mineral. Some of the most fascinating of these finds are sea beans, also known as drift seeds, which drop from various tropical trees, shrubs and vines, take to the sea and end up in faraway destinations. Sea beans have been recognized for centuries by everyone from the common beachcomber to such notable figures as Christopher Columbus and Charles Darwin. Interest has waxed and waned, but in recent decades they have become the subject of serious study and avid collection.

Read the entire article in the Summer 2009 issue