Growing the Cocoa
Cocoa beans are the product of the cacao tree. The origin of
the cacao tree is in dispute. Some say it originated in the
Amazon basin of Brazil, others place it in the Orinoco Valley
of Venezuela, while still others contend that it is native to
Wherever its first home, we know the cacoa tree is strictly
a tropical plant thriving only in hot, rainy climates. Thus,
its cultivation is confined to the lands not more than 20 degrees
north of south of the equator.
The Need For Shelter
The cacao tree is very delicate and sensitive. It needs protection
from the wind and requires a fair amount of shade under most
conditions. This is true especially in its first two to four
years of growth.
A newly planted cacao seedling is often sheltered by a different
type of tree. It is normal to plant food crops for shade such
as banana, plantain, coconuts or cocoyams. Rubber trees and
forest trees are also used for shade. Once established, however,
cacao trees can grow in full sun light, provided there are fertile
soil conditions and intensive husbandry. Cacao plantations (trees
under cultivation), and estates, usually in valleys or coastal
plains, must have evenly distributed rainfall and rich, well
As a general rule, cacao trees get their start in a nursery
bed where seeds from high yielding trees are planted in fiber
baskets or plastic bags. The seedlings grow so fast that in
a few months they are ready for transplanting, container and
The First Fruit
With pruning and careful cultivation, the trees of most strains
will begin bearing fruit in the fifth year. With extreme care,
some strains can be induced to yield good crops in the third
and fourth years.
Everything about the tree is just as colorful as its history.
An evergreen, the cacao tree has large glossy leaves that are
red when young and green when mature. Overlays of clinging moss
and colorful lichens are often found on the bark of the trunk,
and in some areas beautiful small orchids grow on its branches.
The tree sprouts thousands of tiny waxy pink or white five-pedaled
blossoms that cluster together on the trunk and older branches.
But, only three to 10 percent will go on to mature into full
The fruit, which will eventually be converted into the world's
chocolate and cocoa, has green or sometimes maroon colored pods
on the trunk of the tree and its main branches. Shaped somewhat
like an elongated melon tapered at both ends, these pods often
ripen into a golden color or sometimes take on a scarlet hue
with multicolored flecks.
At its maturity, the cultivated tree measures from 15 to 25
feet tall, though the tree in its wild state may reach 60 feet
The potential age of a tree is open to speculation. There are
individual trees known to be over 200 years of age, but no one
has determined the real life span of the species. However, in
25 years the economic usefulness of a tree may be considered
at an end, and it often becomes desirable to replant with younger