Cacao Tree Facts


The cacao tree (Theobroma cacao) is widely grown for the commercial chocolate industry. The tree grows only grows 10 to 20 degrees north and south of the equator. It grows up to 40 feet in height and has a 100 year lifespan, but the fruit production deteriorates for the commercial industry at around 60 years of age. Each yellowish or purplish fruit measures approximately 1 foot long and produces 20 to 40 cacao beans.


Cacao trees are grown as understory trees beneath the canopy, shade and protection of larger trees. They require shade and moist soil conditions to thrive. When cultivated, farmers often plant banana or casaca (tapioca) trees around the smaller cacao trees to offer shade and wind protection.


Flowering on the cacao tree occurs year round, so flowers and fruit are produced beside each other no matter what month or season it is. Flowers appear along the stems and trunk of the tree in shades of white or soft pink. The tree is both male and female but unable to fertilize itself, so it must be planted close to other cacao trees to insure pollination.


Pollination of the cacao flowers occurs mostly from tiny midges, which are small gnat type insects which live within the rotting, vegetation-covered forest floor. Bats occasionally help pollination along. Pollination occurs in the morning hours. If pollination fails to happen, the flowers die within 24 hours of blossoming. Less then 5 percent of the flowers will be pollinated prior to their death, according to the Chocolate Manufacturers Association.

Fruit Production

Fruit production begins when the tree is three to five years old. Each pod takes five to eight months to develop after the flower is pollinated. Pods appear football shaped in shades of yellow, green and purplish hues. The pulp is edible and widely enjoyed by monkeys, but the main harvest is for the cocoa beans within the pod, which are manufactured into chocolate.

Harvest and Fermentation

The fruit of the cacao are removed from the tree using machetes or sharp knives. Each pod is cut in half and the seeds are scooped out. Seeds are placed in wooden barrels with banana leaves to aid in fermentation. Fermentation takes from five to seven days to occur. The longer the seeds are allowed to ferment, the richer the aroma of the chocolate.

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About this Author

Kimberly Sharpe is a freelance writer with a diverse background. She has worked as a Web writer for the past four years. She writes extensively for Associated Content where she is both a featured home improvement contributor (with special emphasis on gardening) and a parenting contributor. She also writes for Helium. She has worked professionally in the animal care and gardening fields.