The cocoa bean tree (Theobroma cacao) flourishes in regions of the world around the equator. The tree requires ample rain production, humidity and high year-round heat. They require ongoing protection from the sun and wind, according to the World Cocoa Foundation. Fruit production begins when the tree reaches 5 years old. Pod production peaks at 10 years and continues until the tree reaches 40.
Cocoa seedlings require protection to thrive until they are 4 years old. Hardwood trees, coconut trees, plantains, breadfruit and banana trees are often planted around the young cocoa seedlings to offer shade and wind protection. When a cocoa tree has ample shade from the tropical sunlight, its lifespan is often increased to 100 years according to the Chocolate Manufacturers Association.
The flowers of the cocoa tree are produced year-round and grow side by side with the cocoa pods. The flowers are a waxy white or pink in color. They grow in large clusters by the thousands. Flowers are located on mature older branches and along the tree's trunk. Despite an abundance of blossoms, only 3 percent to 10 percent will ever manage to mature into a fruitful seedpod according to the World Cocoa Foundation. A small insect known as a "midge" is the chief pollinator. It requires moist, dark, rotting vegetation to survive.
Foliage and Growth
The foliage of the cocoa tree begins a brilliant red. As the leaves mature they turn green. The tree produces a deep taproot that measures about 3 feet long. It also produces an abundance of horizontal feeder roots that spread out 20 feet around the tree in search of water and nutrients. The tree grows about 50 feet tall.
Seed pods mature over 5 to 6 months. Each pod measures between 8 to 14 inches when fully grown. Pods appear in yellow, red, green and purple. Pods often have a speckled appearance when fully grown. Each seed pod contains 20 to 60 seeds embedded in a soft white pulp. The seeds produce cocoa butter.
Harvest takes place year-round when seed pods ripen. The pods are chopped from the tree by hand using a machete. The seed pods are never pulled from the tree because they can do considerable damage to the limbs and trunk by ripping bark and causing a delay in future flower production in the wounded area according to the Queensland Government.