What is the Vegetal Ivory?

Vegetable ivory, also known as corozo or tagua, is a material obtained from the seeds of a palm tree, the Phytelephas macrocarpa which grows in the rainforest of South America.

Once dried, the fruit (of which the endosperm is used) has a consistency, color and appearance very similar to animal ivory and can be easily worked and dyed. It is used for the preparation of: mosaics, floors, coverings, buttons, beads, jewelry, buttons and details of musical instruments such as bagpipes. Once an economic substitute for ivory, after the ban on elephant hunting it has found its economic and ecological importance.

The name corozo is indicated to indicate the fruits of a species of palm called Phytelephas macrocarpa or of Hyphaene thebaica. The fruits of the first species can reach 60 cm and the weight can reach 12 kg. Each suit is divided into six to seven parts.

Each of these parts contain cells. Each cell can hold 6-9 seeds the size of a pigeon egg. Freshly formed fresh seeds contain a colorless liquid which, after ripening, becomes milky due to the increase in the hemicellulose.

At first glance, the seeds of this plant seem to have a uniform structure but a careful examination with a magnifying glass shows parallel channels filled with a more vitreous material which gives these seeds porosity which allows these seeds to be dyed. The fruits of the second species consist of a single seed consisting of hemicellulose. The seed at its center has a cavity that limits its use and has characteristics similar to the actual corozo (i.e. the seeds of the Phytelephas macrocarpa).

The color of the corozo is similar to animal ivory, with which it has other similarities: hardness (2.5 on the Mohs scale); the absence of flaking; the waxy shine; however the two types of ivory differ by: the fracture which is splintering for animal ivory, is irregular for corozo; the fluorescence which for animal ivory is white-blue or yellowish, for corozo it is white-bluish; the density is higher for animal ivory (1.70-1.95 g / cm³ of animal ivory against 1.40 g / cm³ of corozo). The material that characterizes the corozo, being composed of cellulose, in the presence of fire is subject to burning and charring very quickly.

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