I first came across a tagua nut while browsing in a bead shop last year. A big sign read "vegetable ivory" and "helps preserve the rainforest". Of course that piqued my attention! What was this tagua nut, why were they calling it vegetable ivory, and how come I had never heard of it before?
It turns out that tagua nut trees grow in Central and South America. It takes about 15 years before they will begin producing a harvest of tagua nuts, but then they will continue producing for a century and more. By harvesting the tagua nuts and creating consumer products from them, the survival of these tracts of rainforests is guaranteed. You see, as long as money can be made from standing trees, then it makes sense to leave them standing (instead of cutting them down for lumber, which has only short-term economic gain).
Local villagers are able to support their families by creating a tagua nut trade. Additionally, these curious nuts have been called "vegetable ivory" for their usefulness in replacing the extremely detrimental elephant ivory for the manufacture of small objects such as sculptures and pendants. A very sustainable discovery!
Not only are the tagua nuts eco-friendly and sustainable, but they are also gorgeous. You can see in the photo above that the tagua nut contains natural swirls of color, rendering every slice totally unique. They also can be sliced into thin chips and dyed various colors.
You can learn more about the tagua nut and see some beautiful necklaces here.