Tagua is a unique vegetable. Growing wild in the primary forest of Ecuador, the nuts of this palm tree form in large clusters and hang like a coconut.
These groups then fall to the ground or are cut from the tree. Each group contains many labels that are of different sizes.
EXTRA LARGE, LARGE, MEDIUM SMALL, EXTRA SMALL DRIED TAGUA NUTS
Phytelephas comes from the Greek words phyton, which means plant, and elephas, which means elephant.
Hard white seeds of this genus are also known as vegetable ivory, a sustainable alternative to animal ivory.
The characteristics of the ivories differ mainly in that the tagua softens when soaked in water for long periods of time, while the animal ivory remains hard.
During the Victorian era, tagua was used to make decorated thimbles, says and jewelry. Before the plastic buttons became popular, tagua was a key material in the button industry.
At the end of the 19th century, factories in London and Birmingham imported between two and three million nuts per year. During the 1920s, 20% of all buttons manufactured in the United States were made of tagua. Today, Patagonia, Smith & Hawken and several fashion houses, especially from Italy, continue to use tagua buttons for their clothes.
Ecuador is the only exporter of the tagua discs used to produce buttons. Annually, Ecuador exports approximately 100,000 metric tons of tagua. Vegetable ivory is also used for jewelry, small sculptures and in the design of home decoration products.
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