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November 2012

Did you know that Entada gigas produces the longest bean pod of any legume in the world?

Monkey Ladder - Sea Heart (Entada gigasla). Vine, pod and seed.

Monkey Ladder - Sea Heart - Entada gigas

Entada is a genus of flowering plants in the pea family, Fabaceae, subfamily Mimosoideae. It consists of some 30 species of trees, shrubs and tropical lianas. About 21 species are known from Africa, six from Asia, two from the American tropics and one with a pantropical distribution. They have compound leaves and produce exceptionally large seedpods of up to 1.5 metres (4.9 ft) long. Their seeds are buoyant and survive lengthy journeys via rivers and ocean currents, to eventually wash up on tropical beaches.

Entada gigas, commonly known as the monkey-ladder, Coeur de la Mer or Sea Heart, is a species of flowering liana in the pea family, Fabaceae, that is native to Central America, the Caribbean, northern South America, and Africa. A liana is any of various long-stemmed, woody vines that are rooted in the soil at ground level and use trees, as well as other means of vertical support, to climb up to the canopy to get access to well-lit areas of the forest. Twining through the forest canopy like a botanical boa constrictor, sea heart vines are one of the most remarkable lianas of the New World tropics. Known locally as "escalera de mono" or "monkey ladder," sea heart vines actually provide arboreal thoroughfares for monkeys high in the rain forest canopy.

Like a writhing snake, a single monkey ladder may climb the tallest tree before it branches and winds through several tree crowns over 100 feet above the forest floor. Some trees become so heavily draped with luxuriant lianas that they are toppled by the wind. Although their support tree may fall, many lianas remain rooted in the ground and simply climb to the tops of neighboring trees.

The main stems of monkey ladder may be more than a foot in diameter, often flattened and ribbonlike or spiraling like an Archimedean screw. Even the smallest stems are remarkably springy and very strong. Large lianas, such as monkey ladder, provide a maze of arboreal thoroughfares for countless animals, from lizards, snakes and sloths to monkeys, the trapeze artists of the forest canopy. 

The monkey ladder is widely distributed throughout wet lowland forests of the New World tropics. Along riverbanks and the margins of forests this massive liana may completely drape tall trees with a green curtain of leafy vines. Dense spikes of small greenish-yellow flowers hang from the axils of tendril-bearing, bipinnate leaves. Although the individual blossoms are not that showy compared to some legumes, the fruits are truly wonders of the plant kingdom. At maturity the elongate, twisted, brown pod may be three to six feet (1 to 2 meters) in length, the longest of any legume. When they hang from the tops of huge vines, it reminds one of Jack's fabulous adventure when he climbed the legendary bean stalk.

Not only does Entada gigas produces the longest bean pod of any legume, this tropical vine also produces large, heart-shaped seeds that ride the ocean currents of the world. 

Entada gigas is notable for having the family's largest seedpods,which measure 12 cm (4.7 in) across and can reach 2 m (6.6 ft) in length. 

Although they are very large, the pods of monkey ladder are rather flimsy and typically break apart into 15 or more one-seeded compartments. In fact, the forest floor is often littered with these sections, several connected to each other by a tough, woody cord. Each section contains a shiny, brown seed resembling a large bean made of polished hardwood. The seeds may be two and one-half inches (6 centimeters) across and a thickness of 2 cm (0.79 in) and often resemble wooden hearts. Because of a hollow cavity adjacent to the seed embryo and a thick, woody covering, the seed is very buoyant and resistant to decay.

Torrential rains commonly wash the seeds into streams and rivers where they are carried into the sea. Here the seeds start a new career as "sea hearts" in one of nature's most fascinating stories. Literally millions of sea hearts ride the ocean currents of the world, drifting for months or years--eventually washing ashore on the beaches of distant continents or exotic tropical islands. Seed buoyancy and vitality lasts at least two years. 

Another species of monkey ladder (Entada phaseoloides) is widely distributed throughout the Old World tropics, including Africa, southeast Asia and Polynesian islands of the South Pacific. The large, woody seeds are similar in size to E. gigas, although they tend to be more rounded or rectangular in shape. Because the seeds were hollowed out and filled with snuff, they are often called "snuff-box sea beans." The pods generally do not exceed three feet in length, and they are more woody and stiff than E. gigas. One reference states that the pods of E. phaseoloides were used at one time for clubs by police in the West Indies. It is hard to imagine that the large, flimsy pods would offer much of a deterrent to criminals. During the past 50 years, many authors have listed both species of monkey ladder as E. scandens, a pantropic liana whose distribution was derived from ocean drifting. According to Charles R. Gunn and J.V. Dennis (World Guide to Tropical Drift Seeds and Fruits, 1976), either E. phaseoloides gave rise to the New World species E. gigas, or they both had a common ancestor.

Throughout the ages, the seeds of both species of monkey ladder have been fashioned into all sorts of trinkets and useful objects. The seeds were cut in half, the contents removed, and the woody seed coats hinged together. Hollowed out seeds were commonly used in Norway and Northern Europe for snuff boxes, match boxes and beautiful lockets. The hard seeds take a high polish and their intrinsic value was enhanced with a fine finish of tung oil or lacquer. Sometimes the polished surface displayed the embossed initials of the proud owner. The attractive seeds of Entada phaseoloides have also been used in children's games and Polynesian leis.

The seeds of monkey ladder were ground into a poultice to relieve painful inflammations. Ground seeds were also taken internally for an incredible variety of remedies, including contraception, constipation, snake bites, and as an aphrodisiac in India. In addition, the powdered seeds were reportedly used as a coffee adulterant and for food. Some species of Entada also have a high saponin content. Pieces of the roots and stems macerated in water produce a soapy lather. In Central America, species of Entada have been used as a natural shampoo and laundry soap.

Sea hearts are commonly carried by Caribbean currents to the Gulf of Mexico and beaches of the Florida Keys. The most perfectly shaped hearts are highly prized by beach combers. Sea hearts drifting off the east coast of Florida may ride the Gulf Stream and North Atlantic Currents to Northern Europe. Drift bottle studies conducted by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey indicate that a journey from Yucatan to Ireland may take about one year. Sometimes sea hearts have deep imprints and lacerations, possibly caused by the teeth of ravenous fish during the perilous voyage. Sea hearts are impervious to salt water, and even after floating in ocean water for several years.

Sea hearts have a long and colorful history in fact and fiction. Early naturalists thought the unusual heart-shaped seeds came from strange underwater plants whose origin was shrouded in mystery. Christopher Columbus was fascinated with objects that drifted ashore on beaches of the Azores off the coast of Portugal. It is said that a sea heart provided inspiration to Columbus and led him to set forth in search of lands to the west. In fact, the sea heart is called "fava de Colom" or "Columbus bean" by Portuguese residents of the Azores. In Norway, a bitter tea was made from sea hearts to relieve pain during childbirth. In England, sea hearts were used as teething rings and as good luck charms for sailors embarking on a long ocean voyage. If sea hearts could survive a long and perilous journey across the ocean, perhaps they could also protect their owner. Sea hearts were also carried as an amulet to protect the owner from sickness and to ward off evil spirits. Sea hearts commonly wash ashore on islands of the Caribbean, and in Jamaica they are beautifully hand painted and sold as lucky pendants.





Apple of Sodom - Calotropis procera
Silver Vine - Actinidia polygama
Yerba Mansa - Anemopsis californica
Tree of Death - Manchineel - Hippomane mancinella
Dove Tree - Davidia involucrata
Ashwagandha - Winter Cherry - Withania somnifera
Zabala - Lardizabala biternata
Longan - Dimocarpus longan
Flame tree - Delonix regia
Ōrchid tree - Bauhinia variegata
Pink Lapacho - Handroanthus impetiginosus
African peach - Nauclea latifolia
Golden Himalayan raspberry - Rubus ellipticus
Flame Thrower Palm - Chambeyronia macrocarpa
Toothbrush tree - Mustard tree - Salvadora persica
Monastery bamboo - Thyrsostachys siamensis
Nara - Desert melon - Acanthosicyos horridus
Candelabra tree - Euphorbia ingens
Shea butter tree - Vitellaria paradoxa
Tejocote - Mexican hawthorn - Crataegus mexicana
Tree of Damocles - Oroxylum indicum
Talipot palm - Corypha umbraculifera
Albany pitcher plant - Cephalotus follicularis
Nipa palm - Nypa fruticans
Marmalade Box - Genipa americana
Ice Cream Bean - Inga edulis
Gular - Cluster fig - Ficus racemosa
Kei apple - Dovyalis caffra
Stork's Bill - Erodium cicutarium
Camu Camu - Myrciaria dubia
Pemphis - Pemphis acidula
Sisal - Agave sisalana
Jute Mallow - Corchorus olitorius
Sugar Apple - Annona squamosa
Sapodilla - Manilkara zapota
Black Sapote - Diospyros nigra
Star Apple - Chrysophyllum cainito
White Ginger Lily - Hedychium coronarium
Yuzu - Citrus junos
Wild Loquat - Sugar Plum - Uapaca kirkiana
Tonka - Cumaru - Dipteryx odorata
Chinese bayberry - Myrica rubra
Wood Apple - Limonia acidissima
Açaí - Euterpe oleracea
Tindola - Ivy gourd - Coccinia grandis
Blue honeysuckle - Haskap - Lonicera caerulea
Balata - Manilkara bidentata
Calabash nutmeg - Monodora myristica
Kola nut - Cola nitida
Rainbow eucalyptus - Eucalyptus deglupta
Elephant apple - Dillenia indica
Australian Christmas tree - Nuytsia floribunda
Honeywort- Cerinthe major
Aconite - Monkshood - Wolfsbane - Aconitum napellus
Crown of Thorns - Euphorbia milii
Abyssinian banana - Ensete ventricosum
Goldenrain Tree - Koelreuteria paniculata
Naranjilla - Lulo - Solanum quitoense
Brazil nut tree - Bertholletia excelsa
Sea grape - Coccoloba uvifera
Bignay - Antidesma bunius
Cashew - Anacardium occidentale
Giant Himalayan Lily - Cardiocrinum giganteum
African Hemp - Sparrmannia africana
Lychee - Litchi chinensis
Prickly Heath - Gaultheria mucronata
Hoodia - Bushman's hat - Hoodia gordonii
Cannibals Tomato - Solanum viride
Ashoka - Saraca asoca
Ackee - Blighia sapida
African plum - Safou - Dacryodes edulis
Solandra - Solandra maxima
Stapelia - Stapelia gigantea
Foxglove - Digitalis purpurea
Swiss Cheese Plant - Monstera deliciosa
Chocolate flower - Berlandiera lyrata
Sandersonia - Sandersonia aurantiaca
Northern Japanese Magnolia - Magnolia kobus
Champak - Magnolia champaca
Hookerís lips - Psychotria elata
Suicide Tree - Cerbera odollam
Konjac - Amorphophallus konjac
Madagascar ocotillo - Alluaudia procera
Water Banana - Typhonodorum lindleyanum
Salak - Salacca zalacca
Natal Plum - Carissa macrocarpa
Ashanti blood - Mussaenda erythrophylla
Duranta - Duranta erecta
Maqui - Aristotelia chilensis
Manuka - New Zealand Tea Tree - Leptospermum scoparium
Suriname cherry - Eugenia uniflora
Australian Finger Lime - Citrus australasica
Sacred Flower of the Incas - Cantua buxifolia
Job's tears - Coix Lacryma-jobi
Velvet Bean - Mucuna pruriens
Java Apple - Syzygium samarangense
Screwpine - Pandanus utilis
Marimo - Aegagropila linnaei
Achocha/Caigua - Inca cucumber - Cyclanthera pedata
Rubber Tree - Hevea brasiliensis
Sugar cane - Saccharum officinarum
Sacha inchi - Plukenetia volubilis
Coffea - Coffee Tree - Coffea arabica
Liquorice - Licorice - Glycyrrhiza glabra
Mullein -Verbascum thapsus
Iceplant - Mesembryanthemum crystallinum
Chayote - Sechium edule
Roselle - Hibiscus sabdariffa
Black Goji - Lycium ruthenicum Murray
Rose Cactus - Pereskia grandifolia
Durian - Durio zibethinus
Jackfruit tree - Artocarpus heterophyllus
Cassabanana - Sicana odorifera
Chilean myrtle - Arrayan - Luma apiculata
Kurrajong - Brachychiton populneus
Rice-paper Plant -Tetrapanax papyrifer
Shell Ginger - Alpinia zerumbet
Harlequin Glorybower - Clerodendrum trichotomum
Coco de Mer - Lodoicea maldivica
Silver Tree - Leucadendron argenteum
Buffaloberry - Shepherdia argentea
Himalayan Honeysuckle - Leycesteria formosa
Raisin Tree - Hovenia dulcis
Borojo - Alibertia patinoi - Borojoa patinoi
Butterfly Pea - Clitoria ternatea
Honey Flower - Melianthus major
Ombu - Phytolacca dioica
Lion's Ear - Wild Dagga - Leonotis leonurus
Moringa - Miracle Tree - Moringa oleifera
Sea Daffodil - Pancratium maritimum
Spear Lily - Gymea - Doryanthes
Camphor tree - Cinnamomum camphora
Waterwheel - Aldrovanda vesiculosa
Flowering rush - Butomus umbellatus
Four o'clock - Marvel of Peru - Mirabilis jalapa
Dead Manís Fingers - Decaisnea
Bitter Melon - Momordica charantia
Shoapnuts Tree - Shoapberry - Sapindus
Acerola - Malpighia
Monkey Ladder - Sea Heart - Entada gigas
Cherimoya - Annona cherimola
Caper - Capparis spinosa
Lithops - Living Stones
Chaste Tree - Vitex agnus-castus
Chilean Lantern Tree - Crinodendron hookerianum
Parrot's Beak - Lotus berthelotii
Water Hyacinth - Eichhornia crassipes
Guaiac Tree - Guaiacum officinale - Lignum-vitae
Mickey Mouse bush - Ochna serrulata
Cow's Udder - Solanum mammosum
Miracle fruit - Synsepalum dulcificum
Akebia - Akebia quinata
Chilean Firebush - Embothrium coccineum
Caesalpinia - Caesalpinia pulcherrima
Welwitschia - Welwitschia mirabilis
Saguaro - Carnegiea gigantea
Schisandra - Schisandra chinensis
Monarda - Bee balm - Bergamot
Tamarind - Tamarindus indica
Neomarica - Walking Iris
Red hot poker - Kniphofia - Tritoma
Sikkim rhubarb - Rheum nobile
Reseda - Mignonette
Paulownia - Paulownia tomentosa
Belamcanda chinensis - Leopard lily
Blue Poppy - Meconopsis
Cannonball Tree - Couroupita guianensis
Tamarillo - Cyphomandra betacea
Goji - Wolfberry - Lycium barbarum
Vanilla - Vanilla Planifolia
Stevia - Stevia rebaudiana
Sturt pea - Swainsona formosa
Jade vine - Strongylodon macrobotrys
Sansevieria - Snake Plant
Yareta - Azorella compacta
African tulip tree - Spathodea campanulata
Angel's Trumpets - Brugmansia
Achiote - Annato - Bixa orellana
Sausage Tree - Kigelia pinnata
Castor Oil Plant - Ricinus communis
Firewheel Tree - Stenocarpus sinuatus
Bat Flower - Tacca
Snake gourd - Trichosanthes cucumerina
Hydnora - Hydnora africana
Pickerel Weed - Pontederia
Argan - Argania spinosa
Astilbe - False Goats Beard
Feijoa - Pineapple Guava - Acca sellowiana
Aquilegia - Columbine
Sweet Box - Sarcococca
Christmas Cactus - Schlumbergera
Foxtail Lily - Eremurus
Rue - Ruta graveolens
Ylang-Ylang - Cananga odorata
Rose of Jericho - Anastatica hierochuntica
Waterlily - Nymphaea
Calico Flower - Aristolochia
Daylily - Hemerocallis
Contorted hazel - Corylus avellana Contorta
Torch Ginger - Etlingera elatior
Mistletoe - Viscum album
Devil´s claw - Harpagophytum procumbens
Teasel - Dipsacus
Pampas grass - Gynerium argenteum - Cortaderia Selloanna
Purple coneflower - Echinacea purpurea
Coral Tree - Erythrina crista-galli
Field Poppy - Papaver Rhoeas
Narcissus - Daffodil
Mimosa pudica - Sensitive Plant
Boxwood - Buxus sempervirens
Firethorn - Pyracantha
Star of Bethlehem - Ornithogalum
Muscari - Grape Hyacinth
Papyrus - Cyperus papyrus
Honeysuckle - Lonicera
Passiflora - Passion Flower
Calendula - Marigold
Lupine - Lupinus
Canna - Indian Shot
Witch Hazel - Hamamelis
Oak - Quercus
Brunsvigia - Candelabra Flower
Tree peony - Paeonia suffruticosa
Olive - Olea europaea
Cornflower - Centaurea cyanus
Desert rose - Adenium obesum
Oleander - Nerium Oleander
Sweet Pea - Lathyrus odoratus
Chaenomeles - Flowering Quince
Amaryllis - Hippeastrum
Butchers broom - Ruscus aculeatus
Bay Laurel - Laurus nobilis
Artichoke - Cynara scolymus
Clivia - Clivia Miniata
Dipladenia - Dipladenia sanderii
Date palm - Phoenix dactylifera
Peach - Prunus persica
Almond - Prunus amygdalus
Willow - Salix
Pomegranate - Punica granatum
Protea cynaroides
Colchicum autumnale
Bird of Paradise - Strelitzia reginae
Cardon - Pachycereus pringlei
Wolffia arrhiza
Puya raimondii
Asphodelus - Asphodel
Primula - Primerose
Dicentra spectabilis - Bleeding Heart
Edelweiss - Leontopodium alpinum
Helleborus Niger - Christmas Rose
Zantedeschia - Calla Lily
Fritillaria imperialis - Crown imperial
Common Sunflower - Helianthus annuus
Bee Orchid - Orphys apifera
Convalaria majalis - Lily of the Valley - Muguet
Syringa Vurgaris - Lilac
Snowdrop - Galanthus
Poinsettia - Euphorbia pulcherrima
Dionaea muscipula
Sea anemone
Amorrhophallus titanum
Rafflesia arnoldi


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