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 Ecuador.
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 Aequatorialis 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.
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 seeds 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.