Phytelephas aequatorialis

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Phytelephas (fy-TEHL-eh-fahs)
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Male inflorescence. Photo by La Tagueria
Scientific Classification
Genus: Phytelephas (fy-TEHL-eh-fahs)
Palandra aequatorialis
Native Continent
Habit: Solitary
Leaf type: Pinnate
Survivability index
Common names
Tagua, corozo, coroso (past trade name); marfil vegetal, vegetable ivory (English); avorio vegetate (Italian); Elfenbeinnuss, vegetablische Elfenbein (German); ivoire végetal (French); tagua, corozo (Colombia, Ecuador); jarina (Peru, Brazil).

Habitat and Distribution

Endemic to W Ecuador, where it is common in moist forest up to
Ecuador. Photo:
1500 m elevation.


Stem solitary, to 15 m tall or more, but often only a few meters, about 20 cm in diameter, rough ringed from persisting leaf bases, usually with several dead leaves hanging down below the crown. Leaves 6-8 m long; pinnae 200-300 on each side, arranged in groups and spreading in different planes, or rarely regularly inserted in one plane, the central ones 60-90 cm long and 4-6 cm wide. Male inflorescence 1-2.5 m long, cream to yellow, with 300-500 crowded flower clusters. Male flowers borne on long stalks. Fruiting heads about 30 cm in diameter, with up to 12 fruits. Seeds 5-6 per fruit, about 5 cm long. (Borchsenius, F. 1998)/Palmweb. Editing by edric.

The species is unique within the genus in its long-stalked male flowers, a character which separates it from the otherwise rather similar P. tumacana O. F. Cook, distributed in parts of SW Colombia. Populations of individuals with regularly inserted pinnae held in one plane, and very small male inflorescences have been observed near San Lorenzo in NW Ecuador. (Borchsenius, F. 1998)/Palmweb.


The seeds of this South American feather-leaved palm are the 'vegetable ivory' of commerce, though considerably less important now than 100 years ago. Before the age of plastic, buttons where mass produced from the large, and extremely hard, white seed that indeed looks just like ivory. Phytelephas represents one of the most ancient branches in the palm family. Its unusual seeds are somewhat lengthy to sprout (use deep pots) but once above the ground, seedlings are pretty fast growing and easy to maintain. An interesting and rarely seen palm tree that looks best in a humid and shady place under larger trees in the tropical and subtropical garden. Two-leaf seedlings with their nuts still attached also sell very well as potted plants. ( Cold Hardiness Zone: 10b

Comments and Curiosities

This is a dioecious genus.

External Links


Phonetic spelling of Latin names by edric.

Special thanks to Geoff Stein, (Palmbob) for his hundreds of photos.

Special thanks to, Dr. John Dransfield, Dr. Bill Baker & team, for their volumes of information and photos.

Glossary of Palm Terms; Based on the glossary in Dransfield, J., N.W. Uhl, C.B. Asmussen-Lange, W.J. Baker, M.M. Harley & C.E. Lewis. 2008. Genera Palmarum - Evolution and Classification of the Palms. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. All images copyright of the artists and photographers (see images for credits).

Borchsenius, F. 1998. Manual to the palms of Ecuador. AAU Reports 37. Department of Systematic Botany, University of Aarhus, Denmark in collaboration with Pontificia Universidad Catalica del Ecuador.

Many Special Thanks to Ed Vaile for his long hours of tireless editing and numerous contributions.

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