, Volume 249, Issue 3, pp 721–724 | Cite as

Button botany: plasmodesmata in vegetable ivory

  • Allan Witztum
  • Randy WayneEmail author
Original Article


The hard endosperm of species of the palm genus Phytelephas (elephant plant), known as vegetable ivory, was used in the manufacture of buttons in the nineteenth century, the early twentieth century, and again in more recent times. Here, we show that the pathways for intercellular communication, including the cytoplasm in opposite pits and the plasmodesmata that traverse the cell wall, can be visualized in century-old inexpensive buttons that are readily available in antique shops.


Arecaceae Palm Phytelephas Pits Plasmodesmata Vegetable ivory 


Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


  1. Acosta-Solis M (1948) Tagua or vegetable ivory: a forest product of Ecuador. Econ Bot 2:46–57CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Armstrong WP (1991) Vegetable ivory: saving elephants & South American rain forests. Zoonooz 64(9):17–19, Updated on July 12, 2010 available at Google Scholar
  3. Bailey LH (1943) Flora of Panama. Palmaceae. Ann Mo Bot Gard 30:327–396Google Scholar
  4. Barfod AS (1989) The rise and fall of vegetable ivory. Principles 33:181–190Google Scholar
  5. Barfod AS (1991) A monographic study of the subfamily Phytelephantoideae (Arecaceae). Opera Botanica 105:5–73Google Scholar
  6. Barfod AS, Bergmann B, Pedersen HB (1990) The vegetable ivory industry: surviving and doing well in Ecuador. Econ Bot 44:293–300CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bell K, Oparka K (2011) Imaging plasmodesmata. Protoplasma 248:9–25PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bernal R (1998) Demography of the vegetable ivory palm Phytelephas seemannii in Columbia, and the impact of seed harvesting. J Appl Ecol 35:64–74CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Fitzgibbon J, Vatén A (2011) Plasmodesmata 2010: plasmodesmata down under conference report on plasmodesmata 2010, Sydney, Australia. Protoplasma 248:3–7PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gunning BES, Robards AW (eds) (1976) Intercellular communication in plants: studies on plasmodesmata. Springer, BerlinGoogle Scholar
  11. Köhler P, Carr DJ (2006) A somewhat obscure discoverer of plasmodesmata: Eduard Tangl (1848 – 1905). In: Kokowski M (ed), The Global and the Local: The History of Science and the Cultural Integration of Europe. Proceedings of the 2nd ICESHS Cracow, Poland, September 6–9, 2006, pp. 208–211Google Scholar
  12. Seemann B (1852–1857) The botany of the voyage of H.M.S. Herald. Lovell Reeve, LondonGoogle Scholar
  13. Seemann B (1853) Narrative of the voyage of H.M.S. Herald, vol I. Reeve and Co, LondonGoogle Scholar
  14. Sharp L (1934) Introduction to cytology, 3rd edn. McGraw-Hill, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Staves MP, Wayne R, Leopold AC (1995) Detection of gravity-induced polarity of cytoplasmic streaming in Chara. Protoplasma 188:38–48PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Strasburger E (1901) Ueber Plasmaverbindungen pflanzlicher Zellen. Jahrb f wiss Bot 36:493–610Google Scholar
  17. Strasburger E (1911) Handbook of Practical Botany for the Botanical Laboratory and Private Student. Seventh Edition, Revised. Translated from the German by W. Hillhouse. George Allen & Co, Ltd, LondonGoogle Scholar
  18. Tangl E (1879) Ueber oftene Communicationen zwichen den Zellen des Endosperms einiger Samen. Jahrb f wiss Bot 12:170–190Google Scholar
  19. Timell TE (1957) Vegetable ivory as a source of mannan polysaccharide. Can J Chem 35:333–338CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Velásquez Runk J (1998) Productivity and sustainability of a vegetable ivory palm (Phytelephas aequatorialis, Arecaceae) under three management regimes in Northwestern Ecuador. Econ Bot 52:168–182CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Wayne R (2009) Plant cell biology: from astronomy to zoology. Elsevier Academic Press, Amsterdam, Companion website available at Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Life SciencesBen-Gurion University of the NegevBeer ShevaIsrael
  2. 2.Laboratory of Natural Philosophy, Department of Plant BiologyCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

Personalised recommendations