What the heck is a sea bean?


For years, I have been finding these little nut things on the beaches here in Florida.  Hard nuts of all types.  I have planted a few and they have grown vine like plants with little flowers.  I also started featuring taqua nut jewelry (palm ivory) in the shop recently and have come to realize that I had found a few of these in my travels.  I am not the only crazy person out there who stops and scoops up these little treasures when they see them on the beach.  Apparently, in Brevard county where I live there is a whole group of us crazies called “Drifters”.  200 different types of sea-beans ride the gulf streams to Florida.

So in a nut shell, (hahahaha) sea-beans are seeds or fruits that are carried to the ocean from rivers and streams originating in South & Central Florida usually in the Amazon.  They are also known as drift seeds.  These little beans do not originate from any sea plant.  The key to calling something a sea-bean is it has to drift into the ocean and naturally wash ashore.  Sea-beans are quite hard and buoyant, which helps them survive their long-distance voyage.  They may be dime size or large like chestnuts. 

So how do sea beans get here?  Well, they have an internal air pocket.  Air gets trapped inside which make it float.  There are many different types of beans.  If the sea bean has a hard outer covering of the hard beans they are called “shinies“.  You can polish these ones up.  I have seen many old Florida cracker types, carrying them in their pockets as good luck tokens.   Then there are the see that are not as dense and have a weird, warbled outer covering.  These are called “corkies“. 

You can find these sea-beans during hurricane season or after good storms.   The number of beans you can find in a day will vary with the time of the year.  Without looking, I found at least 6 in about 10 minutes the last time I was in Lauderdale by the Sea.  The Gulf stream influences how many we get, so does wind and temperature changes.  Look in the line of seaweed debris in amongst the driftwood, tar and other beach trash.

Ocean currents, connected to each other in a huge global transit system, can carry sea-beans from current to current- so, a seed from Jamaica could travel to Florida, then to New Jersey, and then across the Atlantic to the United Kingdom.

They have many aliases like deer-eye beans, ox-eye beans or hamburger seed, sea pearls, sea-beans, and seabean.

I found this awesome id online that may help you identify some of the sea-beans you have.  Notice (N) it is what is commonly referred to as a hamburger seed.  This is from waynesworld.com.

A.  Entada species, probably the Old World E. phaseoloides.
C.  Entada rheedei. Drift seed from tropical Africa.
D.  Erythrina variegata. Coral tree from the island of Hawaii.
E.  Mucuna holtonii (cf. M. argyrophylla). Sea bean with velvety pods native to Belize.
F.  Oxyrhynchus trinervius. Drift seed from Costa Rica.
G.  Dioclea reflexa (cf. D. megacarpa). Drift seed from New River of Belize.
H.  Mucuna (cf. M. sloanei). Sea bean from the Monteverde Cloud Forest of Costa Rica.
I.   Mucuna urens. Sea bean from Golfito, Costa Rica.
J.  Caesalpinia ciliata. Yellow nickernut, drift seed from the Caribbean.
K.  Canavalia rosea. Beach bean from the Caribbean (syn. C. maritima).
L.  Entada gigas. Sea heart from huge vine in Golfito, Costa Rica.
M.  Caesalpinia major. Brown nickernut, drift seed from the Caribbean.
N.  Mucuna sloanei. Drift seed from the Caribbean.
O.  Caesalpinia bonduc. Gray nickernut, prickly shrub from island of Antigua.
P.  Dioclea wilsonii. Sea purse from the island of Hawaii (syn. D. violacea).
Q.  Mucuna gigantea Sea bean from Hawaiian Islands: Tan, unmottled bean from Maui.
R.  Gigasiphon macrosiphon. African tree planted on Hawaiian island of Oahu.
S.  Mucuna fawcettii. Caribbean drift seed. Hilum thicker than other Mucuna species.
T.  Canavalia nitida. Cathie’s bean named in honor of author & naturalist Cathie Katz from Brevard County

Morning-Glory Family (Convolvulaceae)

B.  Merremia discoidesperma. Mary’s bean from mountains near Golfito, Costa Rica.


The following are some you can find on the Florida beaches:  Hog plum, loquat (native to China, yet I have dug up 3 from the wild and have them growing in my backyard), tropical almond, red mangrove, sea purse, sea hearts, laurelwood, sea cocounts, Jamaican navel splurge, nickarnut, blisterpod, antidote vine, cabbagebark, calatola, cohune palms, naval-spurges, lantern trees, laurelwood, lotus, mahoes, manchineel, moras, nutmeg, porcupine seeds, soapberries, tallownuts, walnuts and water hickory

Ok, so as you can see, now I am hooked,  I am going to start collecting them and being as I love to garden and grow exotic plants I am going to try to grow these a bit more.  As if the shell collecting, shark teeth hunting and seaglass treasure seeking was not enough.  Now you will find me bent over, hunched looking for sea beans!  Hubby should love it!

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About daniellesdives

diving enthusiast
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5 Responses to What the heck is a sea bean?

  1. Paula says:

    Thanks for all the fun information on sea beans. I go to Hollywood, Fl. twice a year & have never noticed them until someone showed me the heart-shaped one. I did find about 4 button like ones on a 1 hour walk on the beach but no heart one. Unfortunately it was on my last day before I left for Quebec.

  2. Leigh says:

    Thanks so much! I live in Port Saint Lucie, FL and work at the ocean. Lately I have met some people who wear them on necklaces and carry them in their pocket for good luck! I think they are so cool!!! We are going to go on a search for some!!!

  3. paul says:

    Found my Sea Bean at porth ceriad beach in North Wales…..long way from Costa Rica

  4. amy blanchard says:

    Yay!! Great info! I found my first one in Costa Rica and carried it with me for years and now I live on Kauai and have a big jar full of all different shapes and colors. I love them!

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