Peter Kitchen didn't have to wait long to find out what it was that had been passed on to him by Dolly Brown, half a century after she found it on the beach at Tom Bowling Bay (Any idea what this marine object is? April 9).

Several Northland Age readers identified it while the ink on Tuesday's edition was still drying, led by Kerikeri man Peter Heath.

It was a coco de mer, he said, otherwise known as a love nut (apparently because of its resemblance to a female derriere), sea coconut, double coconut or Lodoicea maldivica, native to the Indian Ocean islands of Praslin and Curieuse, in the Seychelles.

"I had one of them for years when I lived in Zimbabwe," Peter said.

Advertisement

"I used it for a door stop."

The shells were once highly prized, it seems, and 16th century European aristocrats had them polished and decorated with jewels.

Now a rare and protected species, the coco de mer tree is grown in many areas in the tropics as an ornamental. The fact that it has not spread naturally being explained by the fact that viable nuts are too dense to float, only those that have rotted out not sinking to the seabed.