Cocoa, Chocolate Tree - Theobroma cacao
Cocoa fruit, seeds and chocolate

Chocolate Bean Growing in the Landscape from the University of

Florida pdf 6 pages

USDA Nutrient Content pdf


Season: October-January

Damage temp. 50F

Part shade

No wind tolerance



Fig. 1


Common Names: cocoa and chocolate (English), cacao (Spanish), cacaoyer and cacaotier (French), kakao (German), cacau (Portuguese).

Origin of this tropical understory tree in the family of the Sterculiaceae are the Amazon Headwaters from where it moved to Central America. Cocoa cultivation began by Mayan tribes in Central America, ca. 1500 BC. Mayas and Aztec attributed divine origin to cocoa tree (brought by god Quetzacoatl). The precious cocoa beans were used as a currency. The sacred beverage called "chocolatl" was consumed from golden cups.

Caution, Fruit and Plant Enthusiasts: Cocoa plants are adapted to and grow best in hot, humid tropical areas with evenly distributed rainfall. Truly tropical areas are characterized by year-round temperatures at or above 68°F and no freezing temperatures. However, cocoa plants with their beautiful foliage and striking pods (fruit), can be grown in well protected areas, and they make unique, interesting, challenging, and fun additions to the home landscape. 1


Description: There are two distinct types of cocoa, Criollo types (cacao dulce) that developed north of the Panama isthmus, and Forastero ('cacao amargo') which originated in the Amazon basin. Criollo types were cultivated by the indigenous people of Central and South America and were the type Europeans were first exposed to. Commercial production commenced in Brazil using the Forastero types, mainly a uniform type called Amelonado. Both types were distributed throughout the Caribbean, where they hybridized in Trinidad, creating a distinct hybrid called Trinitario. Spanish explorers took cocoa to the Philippines, where it spread throughout southeast Asia, India, and Ceylon. Amelonado cocoa was taken to West Africa. 1


Cocoa flower Cocoa flower
Fig. 1a Fig. 1b
Inflorescence Cocoa cushion Flower growth habit Inflorescence
Fig. 2 Fig. 3 Fig. 4 Fig. 5


Flowers: Cocoa flowers and fruits on the older branches and trunk (called cauliflorous flowering). One to 5 flowers arise from a special tissue along the leafless parts of the stem, called the cushion (Fig. 3). Flowers may arise from this cushion repeatedly. Flowers are small, with 5 petals and sepals and 10 stamens (Fig. 2). They are hermaphroditic (they have male and female plant parts).

Cocoa is pollinated by crawling and flying insects. Some cocoa types and varieties are self incompatible, requiring cross pollination with a compatible variety. The Amelonado variety is fully self-compatible.

Cocoa plants may set a large number of fruit, which may lead to plant decline. In general, only 1 to 2 pods should be allowed to develop at any one flowering cushion on a limb. In other words, if more than 1 of the flowers from a cushion sets a fruit, leave only 1 or 2 to develop. Removing an excessive number of pods will result in faster development and larger pods of remaining fruit.

Self-incompatibility of cocoa flowers may result in little to no pod production. Therefore either a self-compatible type (variety) should be grown or 2 or more compatible types (varieties), should be grown near each other. Since cocoa is normally pollinated by specific midge species (Forcipomyia spp.) that may not be present in Florida, hand pollination is one way to increase the chance of pod formation. Flowers usually open in the early morning, and hand pollination during the morning hours is best. This may be accomplished by using a small artist's paint brush that is first placed in contact with the anthers of an open flower and then placed in contact with the stigma of another flower. 1

Hormonal changes after compatible and incompatible pollination in Theobroma cacao L.

from the University of Louisiana pdf 6 pages


Fruit forming Immature pod Immature Pods Mature pods
Fig. 6 Fig. 7 Fig. 8 Fig. 9


Fruit: The fruit is called a pod (technically it is a drupe), and the time from flower pollination to a fully developed pod takes 5 to 7 months or more. The pod has a thick peel (pericarp) and may be 4 to 13 inches (10–33 cm) long. It may be cylindrical to round shaped with longitudinal ribs. The pod may be green or green-white, turning yellow upon ripening, or it may be red and develop some yellow color upon ripening. The pods are very attractive from an ornamental standpoint. Pods contain 20 to 60 seeds. Seeds are covered with a white, pinkish or brownish, subacid mucilage that is sweet. Seeds may be extracted and the mucilage surrounding the seed consumed. The seeds are processed to make chocolate. 1


Cocoa pod opened Cocoa pod opened Cross-section of a healthy cacao pod  
Fig. 10 Fig. 11 Fig. 12  
Pods on the tree Cocao leaves Cocoa tree
Fig. 13 Fig. 14 Fig. 15


Harvest: Pods should be harvested soon after developing their characteristic yellow or red and yellow peel color. The pods should be clipped off carefully. Pulling them off may damage the cushion and reduce pod production. The pod may be opened with a knife and the mucilaginous seeds removed. 1


Cacao disected

Fig. 16

Propagation: is by seed, airlayering, cuttings or grafting. Seeds germinate in 5-10 days, but lose viability quickly if they dry out. Seedlings should be grown under 50% shade. Cacao may be cleft or patch grafted.


Cocoa tree

Fig. 17


Cocoa pods in various stages of ripening

Fig. 17


Fig. 18

In general chocolate and cocoa is considered to be a rich source of antioxidants such as procyanidins and flavanoids, which may impart anti aging properties. Chocolate and cocoa also contain a high level of flavonoids, specifically epicatechin, which may have beneficial cardiovascular effects on health. 2


Storage: Chocolate is very sensitive to temperature and humidity. Ideal storage temperatures are between 15 and 17°C (59 and 63°F), with a relative humidity of less than 50%. Various types of "blooming" effects can occur if chocolate is stored or served improperly. Fat bloom is caused by storage temperature fluctuating or exceeding 24°C, while sugar bloom is caused by temperature below 15°C or excess humidity. To distinguish between different types of bloom, one can rub the surface of the chocolate lightly, and if the bloom disappears, it is fat bloom. One can get rid of bloom by retempering the chocolate or using it for any use that requires melting the chocolate.
Chocolate is generally stored away from other foods, as it can absorb different aromas. Ideally, chocolates are packed or wrapped, and placed in proper storage with the correct humidity and temperature. Additionally, chocolate is frequently stored in a dark place or protected from light by wrapping paper.
If refrigerated or frozen without containment, chocolate can absorb enough moisture to cause a whitish discoloration, the result of fat or sugar crystals rising to the surface. Moving chocolate from one temperature extreme to another, such as from a refrigerator on a hot day, can result in an oily texture. Although visually unappealing, chocolate suffering from bloom is perfectly safe for consumption. 3


Further Reading

World Cocoa Foundation ext. link

International Cocoa Organization ext. link

Cacao (Theobroma cacao) from the Specialty Crops for Pacific Island Agroforestry pdf 23 pages

Processing Cocoa from the Archives of the Rare Fruit Council of Australia

Sensory Analysis of Chocolate Liquor by Stacy Reed from Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate pdf 10 pages

Theobroma cacao L. from the Center for New Crops and Plants Products, Purdue University

How Chocolate is Made from Princeton University pdf 12 pages

Cocoa Botanical Art


Check our List of Growers & Vendors



Diseases and Pests

Numerous insects and diseases are reported to attack cocoa plants, however, since cocoa is rarely grown in south Florida, insect problems may be reduced although not eliminated. Contact your local county extension agent for current control recommendations.

Several Phytophthora species common to Florida are reported to attack cocoa shoots, leaves, roots, and pods. Several pod rotting fungi may be present in Florida.


Never propagate new cocoa plants from mother plants showing symptoms of distorted growth. The distorted growth may indicate a viral infection.



1 Crane, Honathan H., Balerdi, Carlos F. and Joyner, Gene. "Cocoa (Chocolate Bean) Growing in the Florida Home Landscape."  This document is HS1057, one of a series of the Horticultural Sciences Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Publication date Nov. 2005. Reviewed July 2013. Web. 3 Oct. 2014.

2 "Cocoa bean." Web. 4 Oct. 2014.

3 "Chocolate." Web. 5 Oct. 2014.


Fig. 1 Jaitt, Oscar. ACOCOA or CHOCOLATE TREE (Theobroma cacao). N.d. Web. 3 Oct. 2014.

Fig. 1a,b Domste. Theobroma cacao - flower. 2012. Universtiy of Vienna. Web. 6 Oct. 2014.

Fig. 2 Khaytarova, Marina. Theobroma cacao (Cocoa Tree). N.d. Top Tropicals Tropical Plant Catalog. Web. 3 Oct. 2014.

Fig. 3,7 Kwan. Theobroma cacao (Cocoa Tree). 2008. Web. 3 Oct. 2014.

Fig. 4,6,17  Robitaille, Liette. "Cocoa Series at Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden". 2014. JPG file.

Fig. 5,8,10,11,13 Theobroma cacao (Cocoa Tree). N.d. Top Tropicals Tropical Plant Catalog. Web. 3 Oct. 2014.

Fig. 7 Kwan. Theobroma cacao (Cocoa Tree). 2013. Web. 3 Oct. 2014.

Fig. 9 Kwan. Theobroma cacao (Cocoa Tree). 2011. Web. 3 Oct. 2014.

Fig. 12 Weller, Keith. Cross-section of a healthy cacao pod. N.d. USDA, ARS, National Genetic Resources Program. Germplasm Resources Information Network - (GRIN) [Online Database]. National Germplasm Resources Laboratory, Beltsville, Maryland. Web. 4 Oct. 2014.

Fig. 14,15 Kwan. Theobroma cacao (Cocoa Tree). 2009. Web. 3 Oct. 2014.

Fig. 16 Calderon, Cesar. Cacao, Theobroma cacao. 2006. USDA APHIS PPQ. Web. 6 Oct. 2014.

Fig. 18 Medicaster. Cocoa pods in various stages of ripening. 2006. Web. 4 Oct. 2014.

Fig. 19 Chocolate02. Chocolate. 2005. Web. 4 Oct. 2014.

Published Feb. 2014 LR. Updated 27 Apr. 2015 LR

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