December 12, 2016
'Drift' seeds find their way to our beaches from afar
By DEWEY PARR
on an isolated island as a child, I was fascinated with all the
different aspects of nature. We had little to distract us from
the beauties that surrounded us each day. I learned to love and
respect the different habits of each creature that roamed the woods or
lived in the ocean. With each change in the seasons, there
came new and exciting things for me to observe and learn.
As fall approached, the one thing that took center stage was the
formation of seeds on the vines, grasses, shrubs, and trees.
It was a happy time for the birds and the animals. Squirrels
could be seen flitting from tree to tree. Flocks of birds fed on
the seeds. Cooler days and nights also led to a change in the
sounds that echoed throughout the day. The chatter of the
squirrels and songs of the birds seemed sharper and clearer in the
With the coming of each fall, I still find myself collecting
seeds to dry and store for spring planting. To me, it is still is
a joy to observe the different kinds of seeds produced by plants. It is
even a greater joy to have someone give me a seed that I am not
familiar with, and to plant that seed and wait eagerly to see what kind
of plant it will produce. Nothing gives a gardener any greater joy than
to have someone give him a seed, or to provide another person
seeds. Seed-sharing has a way of bonding people.
When Mary and I operated our shop -- the Old Gray House on Light
Plant Road in Buxton -- the Wahls family from Athens, Ala., would come
to visit with us every year. One of their boys, Ethan, would
bring me either a plant or seeds. Even though Ethan and I were
miles apart in distance and age, our seed-sharing became a bond between
us. I looked forward to his visit each year and was always
prepared to have something to share with him. Mind you, our
annual meeting was only for a short time, but our plant- and
seed-sharing memory lasted for the entire year until his next visit.
Ethan’s memory will always be with me when seed time comes.
Living on the ocean, we have an extra joy -- it's not just island
plants that provide us seeds. It is the ocean itself. To
obtain these seeds, you walk the beach. The best place to find
these seeds is in the wrack at the high-water mark, where you will see
the seaweed or trash that has been deposited after the tides
I hate to mention the word "trash," for it shows how little respect
many people have for the environment. Lots of people, sorry to
say, would not take the time to put their trash in a garbage can if it
was within an arm's reach from them. Some even toss out their bottles
and cans as they drive along the beach. Little do they
realize the damage they do to the environment when they recklessly
toss their trash on the beach. Their actions are responsible for
the death of much of the sea life that gets entangled in the
trash. There is no excuse for anyone to trash our beaches or
waters. Severe punishment should be imposed on them.
Anyway, if you should see me walking along the beach and kicking
the seaweed, it is not because I am mad. It is because I am
searching for seeds that came riding in on the ocean waves.
Kicking is one way of seeing what is concealed within the
seaweed. A better way is to gently rake through the seaweed to
Seeds you find on the beach are called drift seeds. They are
seeds that are carried to our beaches from faraway places, such as the
Caribbean or even South America. Some of these seeds have been
traveling the ocean highways, or currents, for long periods of time or
maybe even years before they are deposited on our beach as a result of
the wind and waves. If you have not done so, I recommend you
obtain a map of the ocean currents so that you can understand where
some of the treasures you see originated.
Part of the fun of scouring the beach for treasures is to try to
determine the origin of the objects you find. Seeds are a just
one of the things that come to us by way of the ocean currents.
We even have such items as refugee boats from Cuba wash up on our
beach, which is what happened during hurricane Matthew.
Islanders of old understood the value of the ocean currents.
After every storm, they dashed to the beach to collect all types of
articles, such as lumber and buoys. Many of the old homes on the
island were built out of lumber and even had furnishings made out of
things that washed up on the beach after storms. Crews from ships
passing by the island sometimes threw building materials overboard,
which provided another source for residents to use.
the 1930s, most of the yards on the island were dotted with things
found on the beach. It was common to see big buoys, ship's
wheels, bells, driftwood, and sand walkways lined with large horse
conch or whelk shells. Even gravesites were lined with
large shells. All this was soon to disappear as sand roads became
hard roads and access to the island no longer was dependent on a small
With the coming of the Cape Hatteras National Park in 1953 and the
building of Bonner Bridge in 1963, life changed dramatically for all
who lived on Hatteras and Ocracoke islands. Thousands of tourists
poured onto the islands. Many of those who made day trips from
the mainland to the Hatteras Island just naturally assumed things
people had collected on the beach that was in their yards and along the
roads was theirs for the picking. And picking they did. No
longer was island life the simple life it was. Now the new norm
became "What is yours is mine for the taking." Before the
bridge, it was "What is yours is yours, and I honor and protect your
Now it is seldom you see beach treasures displayed in people’s yards
unless they are bolted down to keep them from being stolen. Even
then, residents have to be careful as the things they display might
result in a visit from the National Park Service. It is illegal to
collect artifacts from the beach.
I recall when an organization on the island first began they asked
for donations of artifacts or information about things and the location
where people had found them on the island. An islander
showed them some of the things he had found, not intending to donate
them. He had items such as cannon balls from the Civil War
and Indian relics he had found before the National Park Service owned
the land. He was told it was illegal for him to have those
things in his possession. As he put it, “They kept my stuff.”
Incidents like this have led the islanders to whisper only to the
closest of family members and friends about items they found over the
years and the locations where they found them. It's a shame
that because of such an air of distrust, many secrets of the past
hidden in the woods and items washed up on the beaches will probably
never be known.
As far as I know drift seeds are not classified as artifacts. You
can still enjoy collecting them and dreaming about the faraway places
they came from. I am not an authority on drift seeds, but
if you want information on these seeds that fall in the ocean from
some plant along the water’s edge and float on the currents to our
beach, you can readily find it with the aid of the
Internet The fun in collecting these seeds is to identify
them, learn where they came from, and learn about the plant that
I will mention one drift seed that is my all-time favorite. It is
the drift seed or sea bean known as a "Sailor's Good Luck Charm."
Its other names are the Monkey’s Ladder, Sea Heart, Columbus Bean, and
Entada gigas. I wrote an article about them years ago and gave
away and sold thousands of them as good luck charms to friends and
visitors to our island.
might want to read the article about my daddy’s sea bean that was
published by Irene Nolan, now editor of the Island Free Press, in May
of 2002 -- http://www.outerbanksshells.com/rmsArchives4.html#RMS5
you have one of my sea beans, rub it for good luck and wish Mary Parr
and I good luck as we begin our new adventures in life.
Parr and his wife, Mary, owned the Old Gray House Gifts and Shells in
Buxton for 25 years. It was their "retirement" project when
they opened it up in 1991, and on Sept. 30, they closed the store and
moved on to a new "retirement." You can still check them
out on the Facebook Page,