Tagua, also known as ivory nut or vegetable ivory, is the seed of the Phytelephas macrocarpa
palm, which grows in the humid tropical forests of the Pacific region, especially in Panama,
Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. It is one of the few palm trees that keep water underground,
for up to 50 years
Tagua or vegetable ivory is obtained from the white and hard endosperm, from the seeds of the
Phytelephas sp palm tree, from the Arecaceae family. In these palm trees there is a difference
between the male and the female. The former do not produce Tagua so they are often wrongly
cut. The species is distributed in northwestern South America. The polished endosperm of the
seed looks a lot like ivory, despite its completely different properties. In Ecuador, the
species used to obtain tagua is Phytelephas aequatorialis, which exists in the subtropical
zone between the Andes and the Coast especially in the province of Manabí up to an altitude
of approximately 1,500 meters, especially in the city of Montecristi where many foreigners
and Ecuadorians stroll in search of beautiful and cheap figures made with tagua.
Tagua (tagua flour) serves as food for animals (cattle, pigs, birds). The product has been
in great demand in the northern hemisphere countries until the beginning of the last century,
mainly for button production. It is estimated that, in 1920, 20% of the buttons produced in
the United States were made of tagua, mainly from Ecuador, Colombia and Panama.
The industry has had a great setback after World War II, when plastic almost completely
replaced the use of tagua.
It grows wild in forests called tagual or cadial. The Tagua, Corozo or Vegetable Ivory, is the
complex cellulosic almond of the Phytelephas seed of white, ebúrnea, hard, heavy, smooth and
opaque color that acquires shine with the polish, odorless, tasteless; but it is not elastic
or incorruptible like the true ivory. The plant takes 14 to 15 years from when it is planted
until the first fruits are collected and production is not interrupted in all years and even
centuries. Offering approximately 3 harvests per year, it is estimated that a two meter tall
specimen is not less than 35 to 40 years old. Well developed cyclaceae produce 15 to 16 heads
annually, also known as mococha. In each mococha approximately 20 pepas meet. For use in
handicrafts, after the collection of tagua seeds, they are usually preserved for one or two
years with the objective of drying them, improving the characteristics of the seed for the
lathe or carving process.