Rio History: Sea beans and how to grow them

Special to the PRESS

Every year, shelling is a past time of thousands of people who visit South Padre Island.  But there are other jewels to be found along the seashore.  Although sea-beans have been washing onto beaches for thousands of years, most beachcombers are unaware of their origins.  Most true sea-beans (numerous varieties of beans with hard outer shells that are long distance drifters) found on Padre Island come from the tropical forests of southern Mexico and Central and South America.  The majority grow in pods on vines or low sprawling shrubs.  Rainforests and lush river banks are their natural homes.  Carried down fresh water streams and rivers during rainy seasons the beans are washed into the Atlantic Ocean.  There, they hitch a ride on strong ocean currents, sometimes floating for many years and thousands of miles before being deposited onto some foreign shore.

Winter months and hurricane seasons are prime times for collecting a variety of sea-beans. Two of the more commonly found beans on South Padre Island are easily identified.  The ‘sea-heart’, which grows profusely in Costa Rica, is dark brown in color and often grows in the shape of a heart.  Another, commonly called the ‘hamburger bean’, looks just like a miniature hamburger.  These are most often reddish or grayish brown with a wide black band that encircles most of the bean.

The best place to find them is either along the wrack or high tide mark or back along washout areas. Search around the base of the dunes and look for trash lines where flooding carried a plethora of lighters, bottles, pumice and driftwood inland. Sometimes these trash areas can be as far inland as a half mile or more. But they are certainly worth the walk.

Along Padre Island prevailing winds produce waves that strike the shore at an angle causing long shore drifts.  These drifts flow up the coast where they meet with opposing winds and as a result anything that has been drifting in the Gulf will wash ashore.

Authors note: Some sea-beans that reach our beaches are still viable but do not germinate.  For germination to take place, the hard outer shell must be penetrated.  In addition, fresh water, not saltwater, is needed for these plants to grow.  However, by following a few simple procedures, sea-beans can be grown successfully.

In her “Don’t Pass the Beans, (available at Paragraph’s Bookstore and Cactus Flower) sea-beaner Kay Lay describes how to prep the bean prior to germination. Each bean has its own soil requirements and Lay covers the different ways of potting the beans and gives some excellent advice on how much water and sun is required for a healthy vine or bush.

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