From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Phytelephas is a genus containing six species of palms (family Arecaceae),
occurring from southern Panama along the Andes to Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru.
They are commonly known as ivory palms, ivory-nut palms or tagua palms;
their scientific name means "plant elephant". This and the first two of the
common names refer to the very hard white endosperm of their seeds (tagua
nuts), which resembles elephant ivory.
They are medium-sized to tall palms reaching up to 20 m tall, with pinnate
leaves. In its original state, the "nut" is covered with pericarp, which
gets removed by various animals. The kernel is covered with a brown, flaky
skin and shaped like a small avocado, roughly 4-8 cm in diameter.
Given trade restrictions in elephant ivory as well as animal welfare
concerns, ivory palm endosperm is often used as a substitute for elephant
ivory today, and traded as vegetable ivory, palm ivory, corozo or tagua.
When dried out, it can be carved just like elephant ivory; it is often used
for beads, buttons, figurines and jewelry, and can be dyed. More recently,
palm ivory has been used in the production of bagpipes. Vegetable ivory
furthers important environmental and socioeconomic goals by stimulating the
local economies and microenterprises in South America, provides an
alternative to cutting down rainforests for farming, and prevents elephants
from being killed for the ivory in their tusks.
In Ecuador, the Ecuadorean Ivory Palm (P. aequatorialis) is the species
whose kernels are widely harvested. The Large-fruited Ivory Palm (P.
macrocarpa) is the ivory palm native to Brazil, and most
internationally-traded palm ivory is derived from this species. The
Colombian Ivory Palm (P. schottii) and P. tenuicaulis, both formerly
included in P. macrocarpa, are the usual source of the product in Colombia.
The other two species are quite rare and have a restricted range; they are
not used for tagua production on a significant scale.
The kernels are typically simply picked up from the ground after the ripe
fruit has detached from the tree and forest animals have taken care of the
pericarp, or harvested when ripe and the pericarp manually removed. When
buying them, one cannot see inside them and, in some countries such as
Australia, the sliced nuts are not an issue.
In their native range, these palms are also used as a source of food and construction wood.