In the tropical and humid mountains of Ecuador There is a single plant called Tagua or vegetal Ivory, similar for its morphology to the palms, although it is not botanically a palm but, belongs to the family of the cyclantáceas. Its scientific name is Phytelephas aequatorialis. Etymologically Phytelephas comes from the Greek Phyton = plant and Elephas = ivory, that is, ivory plant or vegetable ivory
It grows wild in forests called Taguales. The Tagua, Corozo or Ivory Vegetal, is the complex cellulosic almond of Phytelephas seed of white, ebúrnea, hard, heavy, smooth and opaque that acquires shine with the polish, odorless, tasteless; but it is not elastic nor incorruptible like true ivory.
The plant takes 14 to 15 years from being planted until the first fruits are collected and production is not interrupted in all years and even centuries. It offers 3 harvests a year approximately.
It is estimated that a two meter tall specimen is no less than 35 to 40 years old. Well developed cyclanaceae produce annually 15 to 16 heads, also known as mocochas. In each mococha, approximately 20 pepas are collected.
This prickly palm, of a little aesthetic appearance, only grows in the thick humid jungles of Panama, Colombia, Ecuador and Brazil. It is widespread on the coast of Ecuador, up to 1500 meters above sea level, where its seeds that give the “vegetal ivory” or tagua are commonly collected from natural populations (Barroso, 1998)
ABUNDANCE, ECOLOGY AND DYNAMICS
Phytelephas species are distributed along the Pacific lowlands of Panama, Colombia, and Ecuador, the Magdalena River Valley, in Colombia, and northwest Amazon in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil. P. aequatorialis is distributed in western Ecuador, from the border with Colombia to the south to the province of Azuay.
Phytelephas species grow mostly in alluvial soils under 500 meters, with soil temperatures over 18 ° C generally but P. aequatorialis and schottii P. macrocarpa ssp often reach 1,000-1,200 m. All species are best suited to humid and shady areas, especially with over 2,500 mm of precipitation of the year, but macrocarpa P. schottii are often found on steep slopes in rather dry areas in northeastern Colombia.
In some areas the palms are left in pastures after the forest cleared, and they become the woody component of simple silvopastoral systems. Under these conditions they continue to fix the fruit, but do not regenerate. With the exception of some areas in the basin of the Santiago river, in the NW Ecuador, and in the Mira river, in the switch Colombia, Phytelephas species have never been cultivated extensively. In western Colombia, large areas of wild taguales were burned in the last forty years to establish rice fields.
Rodents, like passages (Agouti paca) and agoutis (Dasyprocta), carry the seeds away from the tagual, and then eat the fleshy mesocarp, or bury the seeds for later retrieval. This behavior of rodents probably explains the dispersal of the tagua beyond the inundated plains. (Bernal, 2006)
It is not very demanding on soils, but prefers flooded soils, often seasonally flooded soils in the Pacific lowlands and Phytelephas northwest Amazonian species often form large, somewhat homogeneous stands, called Taguales in Colombia and Ecuador. These Tagalogs extend in an area of less than one hectare to 25 hectares or more, with up to 240-500 palms per hectare. Estimates of the areas covered with Taguales in Colombia and Ecuador have not been made. Although the spread of taguales was probably favored by man during the early Tagua boom, flooding rivers are perhaps the main dispersers of heavy seeds along floodplains. During night flooding of; a small river in western Colombia, about thirty seeds were deposited in a 0.1 hectare diagram of the Taguales (Bernal, 2006)
ASSOCIATION WITH OTHER SPECIES
The genus Phytelephas belongs to the subfamily Phytelephantoideae of the palm, containing the three genera Ammandra, Aphandra, and Phytelephas, that produce vegetal ivory. All species that were exploited commercially in the past, and also the best known of the group, belong to the genus Phytelephas, which includes 4 species: Phytelephas aequatorialis macrocarpa R., P. and P., with three subspecies – ssp. macrocarpa, ssp. tenuicaulis Barfod, and ssp. Schottii H. Wendl. ; Cook of the Tumacana O.F. of P .; and seemannii O.F. Most of the plant ivory came from P. aequatorialis (Ecuador), P. tumacana and P. schottii macrocarpa ssp (Colombia), and P. seemannii (Colombia and Panama). (Bernal, 2006)