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Tagua (Phytelephas aequatorialis) is a species of palm -- a member of a Subfamily containing 6 species. It is found along the Pacific Coast from Colombia to Peru and grows in elevations that range from very low up to 1500 meters.
Flood waters and rodents do the major part of dispersing its nuts. Rodents, such as pacas (Agouti paca) and agoutis (Dasyprocta sp.), eat the fleshy mesocarp (a delicacy) and bury/hoard the seeds for later retrieval, often forgetting where they buried them, resulting in a "helping hand" in starting the life cycle of the palm.
Tagua was an important trade item during the late 1800's and early 20th Century. It was primarily used in button manufacturing, and played a major role in the economy of Ecuador. Unfortunately, the introduction of plastics led to the demise of its trade in the 1930's.
Today, an effort is being made to revive the trade in craft products. This species' nut is the primary source of all "vegetable ivory" exported from Ecuador. It has a brown outer coat and is white inside, hence its name. It becomes very hard as it dries and is ideal for carving. The nut can be eaten when it is still soft but is not very nutritious and used only in a time of famine.
Cohune and Tagua Nuts are used to make crafts, such as carved jewelry, animal figures and ornaments. This is a high-value-added use of the nut. In other words, by carving the nut, value is added so that it is worth many times more as a craft than as a commodity. In addition, the nuts are a renewable resource that can be collected sustainably without damaging the environment.
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