Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The tagua nut: the vegetable ivory

Have you ever heard of tagua? It's a nut that grows on the palm trees in the rainforests of South America, and is commonly referred to as "vegetable ivory" or "plant elephant". These nuts are usually about the size of a walnut, but they can be as small as an olive or as large as an orange. They are pure cellulose and before the nuts mature, they are soft and can be eaten.

We love working with tagua for many reasons, the cultivation and commercialization of these seeds help hundreds of families that are employed by the tagua nut production market. It is their livelihood to protect the resources among which they live and work.

Tagua nuts are as dense as ivory, this is why they are viewed as a sustainable alternative to the ivory derived from elephants. Sadly, elephants must die for their precious ivory. But tagua palms are a renewable resource; as long as their native habitat is preserved and sufficient seeds are left to perpetuate the palms.

A single female tagua palm may produce up to 50 pounds of nuts in a year. That’s roughly the amount of ivory in an average African elephant tusk. The elephant yields its ivory only once, while the palm produces nuts year after year.

Tagua is our main raw material, and can be transformed into beautiful jewelry pieces like the  Tango necklace with two large tagua nuts.

The Cartagena necklace, composed of tagua nut petals.

Tagua nuts and other vegetable ivory plants not only can help save at least a part of the South American rainforests, but also help to preserve the elephants.
Photo courtesy of: Macrame Project, Lee Valley, Beth Wicker, Big Life Foundation.