Vegetable Ivory in Ecuador

Vegetable Ivory in Ecuador is used to make handicrafts like stylish jewelry, a great variety of necklaces and earrings.


vegetable ivory

Affordable and easily packed, tagua nut products make very appealing and unusual gifts for adults and children.

This vegetable is scientifically known as Phytelephas aequatorialis.

The palm tree bearing tagua nuts grows 15 to 18 feet high in tropical rain forests both in the Pacific coast and in the Amazon lowlands of Ecuador.

Crafts made from tagua nuts not only stimulate the economy of the artisans but provides an alternative to cutting down the rain forest for farming.

Vegetable ivory are sustainably harvested from the forest floor when the fruit pod, called head containing the nuts ripens and falls.

Inside this horned husk are the tagua nuts, which are hand collected and dried for approximately one and a half months. The rock-hard nuts are covered with a brown, flaky skin which has to be taken off before carving.

Often a small spot of brown nut is left on an otherwise all white carving so it is not mistaken for elephant ivory by customs officials.

The caramel colored pieces are briefly deep fried to achieve this color, and new jewelry creations are dyed in many colors.

The consistency of tagua is proportional to the drying time increasing the quality and duration of ivory. The plants tolerate the humidity well.

Generally, at the time of winter it rains five months per year. This is the reason why it becomes necessary to expose tagua to the sun frequently: to dry it totally and then, to be able to classify it by sizes. Shortly, it will be put through their respective process of washing and drying.

The cut of the fruit varies in agreement with certain technical considerations and it is perform when the fruit is mature. Later, the drupe is extracted and it is cut in two parts.

For the total loosening of the pulp it is required of eight to fifteen days. This task also can be made immediately after the cut, by using the appropriate tools.

Ecuador initiated the international commercialization of vegetable ivory around 1865 with a first shipment to Germany, where the use of this product in the manufacture of bellboys of high quality for clothes of high seam had been discovered.

In the next decades, something more about the application of tagua also known as exotic ivory original from Ecuador was learned.

Vegetable Ivory Production

In several industries, vegetable ivory or tagua nut was turned into buttons, trinkets, pins, toys, figurines, cards of chess, fists of cane and many products of daily use.

The plantations of tagua in Ecuador are located in mountainous and humid zones that go from 600 to 1500 meters above sea level, in the province of Manabi, mainly.

The plant grows in wild form, which means that the plantations were not programmed nor seeded.

The plantations have extended in spontaneous form from the seeds that fall to the ground and are dampened in rains during winter.

The tagua nut is not elastic nor incorruptible like true ivory. The plant produces uninterruptedly every year for even centuries.

It offers 3 harvests per year approximately. It is calculated that a specimen of two meters of high does not have less than 35 to 40 years of age.

The plant well developed can produce 15 to 16 heads annually, also known like mocochas. In each mococha are collected approximately 20 seeds of fruit.

The process of development of the plant lasts 15 years until obtaining its first fruits.

Then it begins to throw the cluster, whose main characteristics are their great size and that it is born from the armpits of the leaves.

In addition, vegetable ivory requires of certain amount of light, from its initial states to its maturity.

Ecuador is second to none in producing handicrafts of high quality at reasonable prices. You will also find beautiful tagua crafts in the famous Galapagos Islands.

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