In addition to a pebble collection and a sea glass collection, I have an incipient collection of seeds and nuts. Unlike pebbles or sea glass, seeds are alive, almost warm. (As are birds’ eggs. If I had been a 19th century naturalist, I would undoubtedly have started a collection of these rotund treasures, but there’s no way my conscience would let me do it now).
Seeds have a mission, with the odds stacked heavily against them: to get away from their parent plants, lodge in the ground, and germinate. And, for some reason, this mission bestows upon them – I can think of few exceptions – a pleasing shape, an intricate structure, a geometric beauty. Consider the appealing acorns of oaks, so tempting to squirrels and birds. Or the tactile, glossy conkers of horse chestnuts, formerly irresistible to young children – but nowadays few play with them. Or the spiralling scales of the ponderosa pine cone, optimising the number of seeds that can be packed on each (did you know that the number of spirals is a Fibonacci number?).
I keep my nuts, seeds, and seed cases in my favourite bowl, a salad bowl carved from a single piece of grained wood, with a smooth, rounded rim. Most I found in the Peruvian rainforest, either floating downriver after a storm, or lying quietly at the foot of a palm tree, amongst hundreds, waiting for a rodent to help it fulfil its mission. A recent addition, spotted near my house and presented to me by my daughter, is the longest. It’s a banana of a seed. Two of my favourites are a large, light, veined nut which rattles when I shake it, and my ‘wooden rose’, a flower with five thick petals and a flanged centre (which, if memory serves me, came from Tanzania, begged off my mother).
Sadly, I know the names of few – I’m not a connoisseur – so if you, dear reader, can help me identify my ‘mission impossibles’, I would appreciate it.