From childhood I have been fascinated by nature’s infinite variety of forms, colors, textures, shapes and sizes. Seeds display this amazing diversity, and over the years I have accumulated a sizeable collection of botanical necklaces. These “beads” consist of seeds, fruits, stems, roots, arils (seed appendages) and rhizomes (underground stems). I admired them, I wore them and I wondered about them. Where had the seed come from and which plant produced it? When I tried to learn something about these “beads” I discovered there were no books that dealt with the subject.
I began showing my seed necklaces to botanists in my area. Some of the seeds they could readily identify, while some I had to send to universities and botanical gardens in this country and abroad. Gradually most were identified. Despite the best efforts of dedicated botanists a few of my seeds remain a mystery to this day. Once I knew the identity of a seed I could learn its origin, its heritage, its economic, decorative and cultural significance by library research. Interesting facts about the history and folklore of the seeds and their plants emerged as I read through ethnographic and ethnobotanical papers. With these findings I began to create seed profiles – a collection of information about each seed in my collection.
Some seeds have played prominent roles in the lives of humans for thousands of years. They were among the first materials used for ornament. Rudraksha seeds were one of the earliest prayer beads. People have carried certain seeds with them at all times because they attributed talismanic properties to them. Today seeds are still widely used for ornament, prayer beads and good luck charms. Many seeds are poisonous if ingested. But even toxic seeds have served as units of weight, a medium of exchange, protection and adornment.
Some have hopscotched around the world and become an integral part of the landscape far from their place of origin for seeds, like people, are intercontinental travelers. People carried them when they settled new lands and some were dispersed by river and ocean currents to take root in new habitats.
Except for a very few, the necklaces and prayer beads that comprise this book are those in my collection. It is my hope that others will add their research and knowledge to the subject so we can better appreciate the importance of botanical beads.
Ruth J. Smith