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Sea Coconut Drifts from South America to St. Pete Beach

Holding a sea coconut (Manicaria saccifera) I just found on Upham beach.

Holding a sea coconut (Manicaria saccifera) I just found on Upham beach.

Posted by David McRee at BlogTheBeach.com.

While on Upham beach this morning gathering a couple of bags of sargassum seaweed for my garden, I spotted this sea coconut in the wrack line.  It’s not a real coconut, but it does come from a palm tree. These are very common on the Atlantic coast, but are quite uncommon on the Gulf coast.

A sea coconut is a “drift seed.” In other words, it is a seed that has drifted far from the tree that gave it life by floating on the ocean currents.

The sea coconut is the seed of a tropical palm called the sleeve palm, busso palm, or troolie palm which grows in the Amazon basin, on the island of Trinidad, and on the Caribbean coasts of Central and northern South America, according to Perry and Dennis in their book Sea-Beans From the Tropics. This palm produces the largest entire leaves of any known palm and is excellent for thatched roofs.

Sea coconut on the beach, in the wrack line.

Sea coconut on the beach, in the wrack line. This seed most likely drifted clockwise around the entire Gulf of Mexico before being blown up onto Upham beach by the westerly winds that have prevailed for the last few weeks.

Quite a few people enjoy walking the beaches looking for and collecting sea-beans. It so happens that Florida’s Atlantic coast is an excellent place to find sea-beans that drift in from far away continents. A few days of moderate east winds divert seabeans from the Gulf Stream onto Florida’s beaches.

Each year in October, sea-bean collectors from all over the world gather at the Cocoa Beach Public Library for a 2-day International Sea-bean Symposium. We attended last year and had a wonderful time. Sea-beans can be polished to a high luster and can be made into beautiful jewelry, which you’ll find on display and for sale in abundance at the Symposium.

Bill Blazek, pictured below, has a collection of over 42,000 sea-beans. He polishes them by hand–with sandpaper–and generously displays his finest at the Symposium. He’s not a vendor; he just loves to walk the beaches to collect and polish sea-beans. At last year’s Symposium he gave an excellent “how-to” presentation.

Bill Blazek displays his prodigious collection of sea coconuts at the International Sea-bean Symposium in Cocoa Beach.

Bill Blazek displays a small portion of his prodigious collection of sea coconuts at the International Sea-bean Symposium in Cocoa Beach. Photo courtesy of Matt MacQueen.

A closer look at Bill Blazek's collection of sea coconuts, each polished by hand with progressively finer grades of sandpaper. They are beautiful.

A closer look at Bill Blazek's collection of sea coconuts, each polished by hand with progressively finer grades of sandpaper. They are beautiful. Photo courtesy of Matt MacQueen.

If you like beachcombing and are curious about nature, you should consider coming over to the Symposium this October 16th and 17th, 2009 to check it out. You’ll meet all kinds of interesting people, like Dr. Curtis Ebbesmeyer, who has spent years studying ocean currents by monitoring things that wash up on the beaches. Or Dr. Blair Witherington, who is a fountain of knowledge on Florida nature in general, and sea turtles in particular. Blair exhibits the books he has written and that his wife Dawn Witherington has beautifully illustrated. Dawn has her artwork on display and for sale at the Symposium.

For more information about the International Sea-Bean Symposium and about sea-beans in general, visit www.seabeans.com. You can also read the archive of their sea-bean newsletter “The Drifting Seed” that circulates world-wide.

Here’s a great article on beachcombing and “beaning.”

Perhaps I’ll see you at the Symposium in October!

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