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Phytelephas macrocarpa - Ruiz & Pav.

Common Name Vegetable Ivory, Tagua, Nut Palm, Ivory nut palm
Family Arecaceae
USDA hardiness 10-12
Known Hazards None known
Habitats Rainforest[314 ]. Lowland rainforests on alluvial soil[412 , 768 ].
Range S. America - Brazil, Bolivia, Peru.
Edibility Rating    (2 of 5)
Other Uses    (4 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (0 of 5)
Care (info)
Tender Moist Soil Full sun
Phytelephas macrocarpa Vegetable Ivory, Tagua, Nut Palm, Ivory nut palm

Phytelephas macrocarpa Vegetable Ivory, Tagua, Nut Palm, Ivory nut palm


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Phytelephas macrocarpa or commonly known as Ivory Nut Palm is a tropical, dioecious, solitary palm with a short trunk of about 3 m high, large crown comprised of 12-20 leaves, large white flowers, and composite fruits. Edible parts are the nuts, leaves, palm hearts, and fruits. The jelly-like immature endosperm is eaten or consumed as a drink. The hard seed is used as a substitute for ivory. It is used as buttons and in craft making. The leaves are used as a thatching material. Plants are grown from seeds but germination is slow and can take up to 12 months. Fruiting commence at six years after planting.

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of cone
Phytelephas macrocarpa is an evergreen Tree growing to 3.5 m (11ft) by 3 m (9ft) at a slow rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 10. The plant is not self-fertile.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers moist soil. The plant is not wind tolerant.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Elephantusia macrocarpa (Ruiz & Pav.) Willd. Elephantusia microcarpa (Ruiz & Pav.) Willd. Phytelepha


Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Apical bud  Fruit  Seed
Edible Uses: Coffee  Drink

The apical bud is cooked and eaten as a vegetable[412 ]. Eating this bud will lead to the death of the tree since it is unable to form side branches[K ]. The seed tissue of the immature fruit is liquid - it is used as a refreshing drink[301 , 412 ]. A sweet flavour[423 ]. Young fruits[301 ]. The fruit has been used as a coffee substitute[301 ].

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

None known

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

Basketry  Beads  Broom  Buttons  Lighting  Thatching  Tinder

Other Uses: The seed is about the size of a hen's egg[63 ]. As it matures it becomes immensely hard and closely resembles ivory[63 ]. It is used for making buttons, chess pieces and ornamental articles of various kinds[46 , 63 ]. The leaves are sometimes employed in the manufacture of articles of domestic economy[454 ]. (Probably woven into mats etc[K ].) The leaves are used for making baskets[697 ]. The leaves are used as a thatch material for native huts[454 ]. A fibre obtained from the plant is used for brooms, torches, fire starters or blowgun bore-cleaners[697 ].

Special Uses

Carbon Farming

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Industrial Crop: Vegetable ivory  Management: Standard  Regional Crop

A plant from the warm tropics, though it can tolerate occasional short-lived temperatures down to around freezing[423 ]. Prefers a moist soil and a warm, sheltered position[314 ]. A slow-growing plant, it can take from 7 - 25 years from a young seedling before it starts to produce fruit[423 ]. The flowers are heavily scented[423 ]. A dioecious species, both male and female forms need to be grown if fruit and seed are required[768 ].

Carbon Farming

  • Industrial Crop: Vegetable ivory  Large hard seeds to substitute ivory.
  • Management: Standard  Plants grow to their standard height. Harvest fruit, seeds, or other products. Non-Destructive management systems.
  • Regional Crop  These crops have been domesticated and cultivated regionally but have not been adopted elsewhere and are typically not traded globally, Examples in this broad category include perennial cottons and many nuts and staple fruits.

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

Temperature Converter

Type a value in the Celsius field to convert the value to Fahrenheit:



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Seed - it can take 3 - 4 years to germinate[423 ].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

ivory palm, ivory-nut palm, tagua palm, ivoire végétal - French, Elfenbeinpalme - German, Steinnußpalme - German, homero - Spanish, marfil vegetal - Spanish, palma de marfil - Spanish, yarina - Spanish (Peru), elfenbenspalm - Swedish, Tagua palm, Negro’s Head, Yarina, Anon de palma, Palmera marfil,

Found In

Countries where the plant has been found are listed here if the information is available

Bolivia, Plurinational State of; Peru; Brazil, Amazon, Asia, Australia, Central America, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, India, Panama, South America,

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status : This taxon has not yet been assessed

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther
Phytelephas aequatorialisVegetable ivory, Corozo, Ivory palmTree12.0 10-12 MLMHSNM204

Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


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Expert comment


Ruiz & Pav.

Botanical References

Links / References

For a list of references used on this page please go here
A special thanks to Ken Fern for some of the information used on this page.

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