Phytelephas spp.  – Tagua  - Arecaceae

In South America the genus Phytelephas furnished seeds for buttons before World War II.  Synthetics then eclipsed the making of buttons from vegetable ivory.  Today conservation organizations are encouraging clothing manufacturers to again use vegetable ivory for buttons.  One conservation organization’s slogan to promote the use of rain forest products is:  “Wear a piece of the rain forest and help make tropical forests worth more standing than cut.” 6

This palm tree known as tagua occurs from Panama to Peru in damp areas with good drainage or humid, shaded mountain forests.  A gelatinous substance in the seed hardens over time and provides a good material for carving chess pieces, umbrella handles, buttons and jewelry.