#22 NICKERBEAN (Caesalpinta bonduc)
One of the most interesting facets of exploring the mangrove coastlines of Southwest Florida is the dramatic change in vegetation that occurs with only the slightest change in topography. What would constitute a barely noticeable rise in elevation in northern habitats, will abruptly provide a completely different ecosystem in our own back bay here on Estero Island. Among the islands and along the landward of the edge of the mangrove forests , you will often find a narrow shell ridge, perhaps only a foot or two higher than the surrounding muck. These shell ridges are formed by wave action depositing shell onto the shore. And here on Estero Bay, sometimes the higher ground is manmade, the result of mound building activity by the Calusa centuries ago. Either way, this high ground is often guarded by thickets of the formidable nickerbean. A vine like tropical shrub covered in sharp thorns, clothes tearing, skin ripping, miserable thorns. Even the seed pods are covered in thorns.
On the plus side, the smooth grey seeds inside the pod are brilliantly shiny and waterproof. Often they can be found floating or washed up on the shore. These attractive and unusual seeds are popular in the Caribbean where they are formed into necklaces. In addition, nickerbean has historically been used to treat malaria and the shoots and young leaves can be chewed to treat toothaches, so, there’s that.