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a genus of dioecious plants of the family Palmae. The plants have a short arborescent stem and pinnate leaves measuring 3–6 m long. The staminate flowers have numerous stamens—in some species more than 1,000—and are gathered into long cylindrical spadices. The pistillate flowers are in dense capitate inflorescences. The ovary is four- to six-valved; one seed develops in each valve. The oval seeds are the size of a hen’s egg; they are used as food. The endosperm of unripe seeds is in the form of a milky juice. Upon ripening, the endosperm becomes solid and is used, under the name of vegetable ivory, to manufacture buttons, chess pieces, and other articles.
There are about 15 species, distributed in tropical South America. The plants are found mainly in the Andes, at elevations of 1,500–1,800 m above sea level. Seeds of the species P. macrocarpa are especially valuable and are exported from Ecuador and other countries.