Monday, October 02, 2006

Tiree Coconuts #2

On September 20th I featured on the blog a link to an online newspaper article about so-called 'Tiree Coconuts'. A few days back I was contacted by Doctor Charles Nelson. We both hope the following helps put these 'finds' into perspective.

Doctor Nelson writes,

Tropical seeds - variously called Mollucca beans, Caribbean beans, Mary's beans, sea beans, horse-eye beans, suil an asail, and nickar nuts - have been reported from the region since the late 1600s. FamousScottish authors like Martin Martin have written about them, and theywere illustrated as early as 1693, in James Wallace’s Description of theisles of Orkney.

Coconuts, in fact, are regularly washed ashore onbeaches in Cornwall, western Ireland, Scotland and even in Norway atlocalities well beyond the Arctic Circle. Alas they are usuallyoverlooked and very rarely reported to botanical authorities who collect data about these seeds.

Thus the most remarkable thing about the Tiree coconuts is fact they have generated so much interest - one might say"heat" but not "light" - and for completely the wrong reason. In short, tropical seeds washing ashore is nothing new! In the past theywere used as snuff boxes, charms, talismans, vesta cases, and evenornamental jewellery; there are examples in several Scottish museums. And some, especially Mary’s beans, were highly prized by Hebridean midwives.

Dr William Baker's careful explanation of the Tiree coconut records, illustrated with photographs of one of the Tiree nuts, is to be found in Palms 49 (4): 195-198 (2005).

Anyone interested in more informationabout tropical seeds stranded on beaches in western Europe is welcome to consult my book Sea beans and nickar nuts (published by the BotanicalSociety of the British Isles - see www.summerfieldbooks.com) or to contact me directly.

For contact details see www.tippitiwitchet.co.uk

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