VEGETABLE IVORY

Vegetable Ivory, also known as Jarina or Tagua, is the dried seedpod from the Large Fruited Ivory Palm (genus Phytelephas Macrocarpa) which is native to Brazil and the tropical rainforests of South America. This palm tree grows up to 10 metres in height and can take 40 years to produce its fruit, contained in a large cluster or husk which appears just below the leaves.

Each fruit has from 4-9 seeds, ranges in size from an olive to an avocado and the seed's cavity contains a refreshing liquid (pure hemicellulose) which turns to a sweet edible jelly if harvested within six months. If left, however, this jelly turns to a hard white substance similar to ivory and the longer the fruit is left, the harder it becomes.

The first crop (the 'Safrinha') is untouched and left solely for the 'Curicas' (the birds of the Amazon), so it is only after two years that the fruit is harvested and collected by hand from the forest floor. The seeds are then removed from the husk and left to dry in the sun for about three months - and only when dry do further processes begin. 

Traditionally Vegetable Ivory has been carved into ornaments or made into buttons, but more recently it has found new life in the creation of eco-jewellery due to its hardness, which means it can be carved, sliced and drilled, and because of its ability to hold different coloured dyes. 

So versatile is it in fact, and so similar to elephant ivory once polished, that the craftsmen who work it usually leave a section of the brown husk to show that they are indeed using a natural product.

Recent research from Brazil also reckons that the cultivation and harvesting of Vegetable Ivory within the greater Amazonian area keeps some 35,000 people gainfully employed, as well as avoiding loggers chopping down trees to plant soya for biofuels.