What is Taga?

Tague can be turned into billiard balls.

Tagua is a form of vegetable ivory harvested from ivory palm trees in South America. It is seen as a sustainable alternative to animal-derived ivory, and responsible cultivation and harvesting of tagua can also help with rainforest conservation in South America. Like true ivory, tagua is dense and creamy yellow in color and can be carved and worked into buttons, traditional crafts, billiard balls, musical instrument parts and other things traditionally made from ivory.

Tagua is grown in the rainforest in many places.

The formal name of the South American ivory palm is Phytelephas aequatorialis, and the palms thrive between Paraguay and Panama. An adult tagua tree can reach 20 meters in height and will produce several very large and knobby wooden fruits. When the fruit opens, it reveals several tagua nuts the size of a hen’s egg, the seeds of the tree. Tagua seeds can grow into seedlings to perpetuate the trees, or they can be carved into ivory plant products. In small South American communities, the tagua can provide a valuable economic and cultural service, providing people with a source of income that allows them to live a traditional lifestyle.

Tagua is a form of vegetable ivory harvested from ivory palm trees in South America.

In South America, several rainforest conservation initiatives have taken advantage of the economic value of the tagua. Tree cultivation and sustainable harvesting are encouraged; in many places, the tagua is grown in a rainforest environment, rather than a plantation, and the seeds are harvested naturally as they fall to the ground, so the tree is not traumatized by the climb. This allows tagua trees to provide valuable habitat for rainforest animals and also aids in rainforest preservation, because rainforest is more valuable standing than cut down. Keeping the rainforest intact allows scientists to explore it, cataloging new species of plants and animals and finding other plants with potential economic, medical and decorative uses for humans.

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Some see the tagua as a way to keep elephants from being poached for their ivory.

Like other forms of vegetable ivory, tagua is virtually indistinguishable from true ivory. People who care about elephants also support tagua plantations in the hope that plant ivory can fully replace elephant ivory. Although elephants have been dangerously outnumbered, the tagua thrives across much of South America and is also considered a renewable resource because the tree does not need to be killed to gain access to ivory. Thus, the tagua can serve two functions: helping to save the incredibly rare and diverse environment of the rainforest and helping to conserve elephants.

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