Yarina Palm, Tagua Nuts

Yarina Palm, Tagua Nuts

Phytelephas Palmae (Elephant Palm) with three distinctive genera, including Ammandra, Apandra, and Palandra.

The trunk is mostly short-stemmed or stemless.  When the trunk is well developed it has an irregular surface caused by the leaf bases where old dead leaves eventually fall making way for the new growth leaves which are mostly all in one plane, except Palandra which are grouped in two planes.

The female palms produce large, grapefruit sized fruits covered by a brown, horned husk, mostly attached directly at the base of the fruit to the trunk with no stem or stalk, (sessile), growing in dense clusters of 8 to 20 fruiting heads per palm. The fruits are locally called tagua with 5 or 6 fruit segments, or seeds, contained in a rough hull, commonly ranging in size from chicken eggs to walnuts, sometimes larger.

The fruits are edible when immature ranging from a slightly sweet, clear liquid with little taste, similar to immature coconut milk, to a gelatin like substance as it matures, and finally to a hard nut with the texture of ivory when fully mature.

Vegetable Ivory

The mature nuts, are prized by carvers as a substitute for elephant ivory, and frequently referred to as vegetable ivory. An industry was built around the manufacture of buttons before plastics became more cost efficient around 1945.

Yarina Palm, Tagua Nuts

A Field Guide to the Woody Plants of Northwest South America by Alwyn H. Gentry.
Wikipedia Phytelephas, Vegetable Ivory
Wikipedia Tagua Nut
Carving Tagua Nuts, the Vegetable Ivory