Tagua Nuts: The Eco-Friendly Ivory Alternative

Lydia recently went to the annual Alameda Art & Wine Faire, and while browsing through one of the various jewelry booths at the faire, she came across some funky, chunky rings that she thought, at first, were made of wood. However, when she tried one on, she realized the rings were made of something that almost looked like bakelite. When she asked the vendor about the material, the vendor explained that the rings were made of tagua nuts, a material commonly used as an alternative to ivory.

Here at Blue Door Beads, we carry several different styles of beads made from tagua nuts, but we realized we didn’t know that much about the material itself, so we decided to do some research! Tagua nuts are actually the very hard insides of Phytelephas (“ivory palm”) seeds. The “nut”, a.k.a. “vegetable ivory,” starts out covered by two layers: a coconut-type shell on the outside, followed by a brown, flaky skin that covers the “nut” on the inside. Tagua nuts are harvested by either being picked up from the ground after they have fallen from palm trees and forest animals have taken care of the shell, or harvested when ripe and the shell is manually removed. The hardness of the “nut” is very similar to ivory, so it is a very popular material for carvings/sculptures, beads, and buttons. Not only does “vegetable ivory” stimulate local economies in South American countries such as Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador by providing an alternative to cutting down rainforests for farming, but it also prevents elephants from being killed for their tusks.

Check out some of the amazing things people have created out of tagua nuts!

The life cycle of a tagua nut, from its original form to a gorgeous tree frog carving! Photo courtesy of waynesword.palomar.edu

The life cycle of a tagua nut, from its original form to a gorgeous tree frog carving! Photo courtesy of waynesword.palomar.edu

We have lots of different tagus beads here at Blue Door Beads. We can't get enough of them!

We have lots of different tagus beads here at Blue Door Beads. We can’t get enough of them!

Vegetable ivory absorbs dye really well, resulting in vibrant beads and pendants, like these tagua slices. Photo courtesy of keyka.typepad.com

Vegetable ivory absorbs dye really well, resulting in vibrant beads and pendants, like these tagua slices. Photo courtesy of keyka.typepad.com

Tagua nut rings, in a vibrant array of colors. Photo courtesy of alpacasilver.com

Tagua nut rings, in a vibrant array of colors. Photo courtesy of alpacasilver.com

We love the variety of colors, shapes, and sizes of these tagua slices. Photo courtesy of artisansintheandes.com

We love the variety of colors, shapes, and sizes of these tagua slices. Photo courtesy of artisansintheandes.com

Isn't this detailed carving amazing?! Photo courtesy of sporadesign.blogspot.com

Isn’t this detailed carving amazing?! Photo courtesy of sporadesign.blogspot.com

What a hoot! Photo courtesy of desilvaimports.com

What a hoot! Photo courtesy of desilvaimports.com

We love these little guys! Photo courtesy of earthshinenature.com

We love these little guys! Photo courtesy of earthshinenature.com

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