WHAT'S IN A NAME?
by Pete ZiesBecause the beautiful Dioclea seeds are rarely found, in comparison to our other sea-beans, they are also rare discussed. They have more than their share of interesting stories to tell however. Take their common name, "sea purse" - they can't be used to hold anything, but if held with the hilum (the thin line along one edge) pointing up, the look like a lady's handbag, with the hilum being the zipper. (See figure below.) Another common name is "saddle bean" and if the seed is held with the hilum pointed downward the seed usually looks like a saddle. Don't be disappointed it doesn't look like the oversized and elaborate western cowboy saddle, because the British came up with this name, an so it calls to mind their more understated English riding saddle. (See figure below.)
The scientific genus name Dioclea, also tells a story. It honors Diocles of Carystos, who had such a great knowledge of plants that only the famous Hippocrates could be said to have known more among the ancients. Naming plants after scientists is a common form of honoring their work in botany.
A less well known name, of Latin American origin, is "vulture's eye." We Americans would think of our common vultures, (the turkey buzzard, Cathartes aura or the black vulture, Coragyps atratus) and would be stumped, since a Dioclea) looks nothing like their eyes. Recalling the tropical origin of the name however, a little research reveals that a rain forest vulture, known as the king vulture, Sarcohamphus papa, is the seed's inspiration. This bird is very colorful, with a white fleece bib, black and white wings, a featherless head and neck with a black skull cap and bright orange on the neck. The beak is red, and wattles on the beak and cheeks are orange, as is a ring around the eye. Here then is where our name comes from, since most Diocleas have a bright orange ring alongside the hilum that encircles the seed, just like the vulture's eye! Interestingly enough, just as this seed is rare on our beach, there is one rare record of the king vulture being sighted on the St. Johns River in Florida by the explorer-naturalists John and William Bartram back in 1765. So, there's much more to this seed than originally meets the eye!
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