Sea Beans come from many regions of the tropics, but for simplicity's sake, let's use sea hearts as an example. Imagine Tarzan swinging through the treetops in South America on the way to a date with Jane. He's hitching a ride on his favorite species of vine, Entada gigas, since he likes the flexibility and strength it offers in equal parts. Tarzan is a connoisseur of fine vines.
Anyways, in his clumsiness he knocks some huge seeds loose from the Entada gigas vine. The hard seeds bounce off the heads of his forest friends and splash into a muddy river before floating to the surface, and heading all the way downstream to the mighty Amazon.
Some seeds germinate on the river's shores, while others miss the mark entirely and end up as castaways in the Atlantic ocean. Only then do they begin to ride the ocean currents thousands of miles to strange lands were the inhabitants no longer speak Portuguese or Spanish.
Often, the sea beans continue to circle about the ocean's currents or get stuck in the Sargasso Sea before they finally end up stranded on the beach. Usually they arrive along with the rafts of sargassum weed in fall, but sometimes strand after nor-Easters. Some sea beans germinate after getting buried by sand and rotting seaweed, but they never survive in the salty sand and frigid winters.
Sea beans have been found as far north as Scandinavia, but in the United States they're far more likely to wash up on the shores of Florida and the coast of Texas. They're also common in tropical regions all around the world.
Here are some of the drift seeds in my own collection, along with their names. This is only a small selection of what's out there! Some, like the starnut palm, are ridiculously tropical and exotic. On the other hand, the black walnut isn't even found in peninsular Florida. Because of the direction the currents travel in, it had to travel down a river like the Mississippi, into the gulf of Mexico and past the Florida Keys to end up on an East coast Florida shore like mine.
1. Sea heart - Entada gigas
2. Mary's bean - Merremia discoidesperma
3a. Gray nickerbean - Caesalpinea bonduc
3b. Brown nickerbean - Caesalpinea globulorium
4. Sea purse - Dioclea spp.
5. Hamburger beans - Mucuna spp.
6. Starnut palm - Astrocaryum spp.
7. Unidentified palm
8. Manchineel - Hippomane mancinella
9, Crabwood - Carapa guianensis
10. Sea coconut - Manicaria saccifera
11. Jamaican naval spurge - Omphalea diandra
12. Black walnut - Juglans nigra
13. Laurelwood - Calophyllum calaba
14. Bloodwood - Pterocarpus officinalis
15. Coin vine - Dalbergia ecastaphyllum
16. Blister pod - Sacoglottis amazonica
17. Soapberry - Sapindus saponaria
18. Acorn - Quercus spp.
Amazing as it sounds, there are still drift seeds that remain unidentified to this day! Some can only be identified after germinating the seeds and growing the plants long enough to observe the flowers. Being the gardener I am, I have germinated a few sea beans myself but haven't been able to overwinter them outdoors through the winter. I would grow them in containers, were it not for the fact that they outgrow their pots in a single season!
It's best to just marvel at these miraculous seeds the way they are, singly or in a bowl. I love to run my hand through the glossy seeds and imagine the journey that they've endured, and envision passing them on to my grandchildren someday when rainforests wouldn't be as plentiful as they are today.
You can also use just about any durable seed to make displays like these including buckeyes, walnuts and even coffee beans! While a single seed would escape the notice of most, an entire bowl or platter filled with a single species makes a huge impact and starts some great conversations.