tagua (täˈgwä) [key], fruit of the ivory-nut palm ( Phytelephas macrocarpa ), which flourishes in tropical America from Paraguay to Panama. The female palms bear large woody, burrlike fruits, each containing several seeds about the size of hen's eggs. The immature seeds are gelatinous and edible. These are the ivory nuts, white or cream in color and very hard. Known in the trade also as vegetable ivory, the substance is used as a substitute for ivory and has long been carved into curios for tourists. Its commercial value originated in the mid-19th cent. when African ivory began to grow scarce. Tagua became a commodity of considerable importance, great quantities being exported to the United States and Europe for the manufacture of buttons and other small articles. It was largely supplanted by less expensive synthetic materials, although the demand has been rising in recent years. Tagua is classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Liliopsida, order Arecales, family Palmae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.