Vegetable Ivory: A Substitute for Elephant Ivory

vegetable ivory jewelry
vegetable ivory jewelry

This piece of vegetable ivory jewelry has been left its original ivory white color

Vegetable ivory, also known as tagua, is a beautiful substitute for elephant ivory as the two elements have a close resemblance. It can seriously be considered as a solution to hunting down of elephants for ivory. Products made from tagua are becoming increasingly popular for their quality, variety and beauty. Vegetable ivory is native to South America, it’s especially common in Ecuador.

Similarities to Ivory

The hardness and color of vegetable ivory is very similar to that of elephant ivory. Tagau nuts come from the endosperms of ivory palm trees, they are very hard and ivory white in color, although they can also be dyed. Tagua can be polished and carved in the same way as elephant ivory, although the nuts are much smaller than an elephant tusk. This problem is easily solved by using a high quality glue to put several nuts together and then proceed with the carving process.

Like ivory, tagua is light weight, but exceptionally sturdy and strong. It is excellent for jewelry as the pieces are difficult to damage with normal wear. It also holds a color dye well. Often organic vegetable dyes are used on tagua as tagua takes dye easily without the need for heavy binders or further processing.

vegetable ivory organic dye

Vegetable ivory can be dyed easily with natural vegetable dyes

Benefits to Rainforests and Elephants

The use of vegetable ivory contributes to a reduction in the destruction of rain forests as well as a reduction of the hunting of elephants in Africa.

Ivory palms grow naturally and wildly as an integral part of the rainforest, especially in the swampy areas. They are a source of food and shelter to the animals of the rainforest. Large pods grow on the ivory palms and when they drop to the forest floor, local workers retrieve them and dry the nuts in the sun. As tagua is becoming an increasingly more valuable crop, there is stronger economic incentive avoid clear cutting the rainforest for farming or mining purposes.

Tagua is also becoming a popular substitute for elephant ivory: large brands are starting to demand vegetable ivory over elephant ivory to use in their clothing, jewelry and handbag lines. As vegetable ivory is just as beautiful and easy to work with, it’s an eco-friendly choice that makes a lot of sense to both buyers and consumers.

Uses of Vegetable Ivory

vegetable ivory earrings carved

These carved vegetable ivory earrings have been left their natural ivory white

The use of vegetable ivory can be traced back several centuries. Originally vegetable ivory was mainly used to make buttons. The button makers of Rochester, New York, started using vegetable ivory in 1880 for making beautifully carved buttons that were subject to a secret treatment that gave the buttons an elegant look. Later on, vegetable ivory was used for different purposes and different processing techniques were introduced. Carved shapes were developed to use in jewelry and ornaments. Vegetable ivory retains a beautiful glowing polish which has made it popular for carving, jewelry and other artifacts.

Do you have any vegetable ivory, or tagua, in your jewelry collection? What do you love about it?

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  1. What a beautiful resource!

  2. Williamvef says:

    I appreciate you sharing this forum. Fantastic. – Rasnake


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