Most visitors to the beaches of Loughros More and Loughros Beg bays know to expect variable weather, expanses of sand, endless dunes and an exciting strandline. What house does not have a jar of cowries, a sea urchin or two, shiny beautiful mussels, Painted Topshells and a piece of driftwood?
Beachcombing is such an all year round activity, fun for all the family or individual, that I am pleased to make it the subject of my first contribution to this site.
My Sea Bean Treasure (or…. Conkered by a Sea Heart)
This winter’s storms have created new contours on the local beaches. Whilst out on Dawros, Kate’s Strand actually, I was lucky enough to find a sea bean, aka Entada Gigas, sea heart, or monkey ladder vine seed. This was carried here, from the tropics of central and south America, by the Gulf Stream and its continuation, the North Atlantic Drift. These are the same currents which give us our normally mild winters and relatively warm seas.This is my second sea bean find. I found the first one some fifteen years ago at the caves at Maghera. Their journeys to Donegal shores are amazing, the gigantic bean drops into a river in the central or south American rainforest, then is carried downstream out into the Caribbean sea. It then bobs past cruise ships and fishing fleets, migrating salmon and eels, to find its way to a few beaches on the west coast of Ireland. The vine from which they fall is the Monkey Ladder, reputed to have the world’s longest bean pod, about two metres in length. The sea bean has a special air pocket inside which helps it float and explains its deceptively light feel. They do not really want to grow in Ireland although one was germinated at Glasnevin Botanical Gardens in the 1970s, I believe.
My latest sea bean is beautifully shaped, hence its folklore name, Sea Heart. It looks like an extra-large, but flattened, conker. It is chestnut-brown, wonderfully smooth and soothing to hold. They were used as lucky charms for sailors years ago, as they had withstood such a long sea journey.
I did try to record it on Biology.ie, but as it is not a native plant it cannot have an entry on that site. Its presence does illustrate the global forces which mold the shoreline and climate of the greater Sheskinmore area.
Last of all, a wee mention of RL Praegar, that great naturalist, whose book, The Way That I Went, first alerted me to these tropical beans, way back in 1974 when I bought the re-issue as a student. There is a photographic plate showing the various types found on the shores of the west of Ireland.