Tagua nut, 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.
It is used and marketed internationally, mainly to make buttons and also artistic or decorative figures and ornaments.
The Emberá and Wounaan Indians work this seed, making crafts of great beauty and finish, so they are very admired.
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.