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Phytelephas seemannii / Phytelephas macrocarpa


Native to:



Southern Central America and northern South America.

Wet forests, understory plant. Up to 1700 meters above sea level. 5-10 meter tall palm.

Phytelephas seemannii / Phytelephas macrocarpa

Ecological value:

Pollinated by insects, specifically by 2 types of pollen-eating rove beetles
and their predators (from genus Xanthopygus). Squirrels and agoutis will eat the fruit. Weevil larvae tunnel through stems. Bees and a variety of other beetles and insects visit the flowers.

Material uses:

Used for thatch. Seed can be used as an alternative to ivory, known as ‘tagua’, and is used to carve jewelry, buttons and other ornamental items. The plant is heavily exploited for this reason. Fiber from the plant is used in torches and brooms.

Edible uses:

Seed can be eaten two ways: When young (still in liquid form) it is consumed as a sweet drink. Once mature it will harden into a jelly-like texture. Apical bud, cooked, but leads to death plant.

Medicinal use:

No records found.

Other details:

Can survive occasional temperature drops around freezing. Heavily scented flowers. Ammandra decasperma from Colombia, and Aphandra natalia from Ecuador, are closely related to Phytelephas seemannii, producing a vegetable ivory as well, but of inferior quality.


Jiahuan Cheng/Christine Facella


“Phytelephas Macrocarpa Ruiz & Pav. | Plants of the World Online | Kew Science.” n.d. Plants of the World Online. Accessed November 16, 2023.
“Phytelephas Seemannii - Useful Tropical Plants.” n.d. Accessed November 16, 2023.
‌Uphof. J. C. Th., ‘Dictionary of Economic Plants’, Weinheim, 1959
Janick, Jules; Paull, Robert, ‘The Encyclopedia of Fruit and Nuts’, Wallingford, UK: CABI, 2008
Aspinall et al, ‘The mannans of ivory nut (Phytelephas macrocarpa). Part I. The methylation of mannan A and mannan B’. Journal of the Chemical Society, 1953
Image sources: sandy-espinozaf (Phytelephas aequatorialis) and Rama.

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