Cocoa beans come from the cacao tree and are used to make cocoa and chocolate. The tree is a sensitive plant, requiring specific climatic conditions, such as sufficient warmth, water and proper exposure to sunlight to grow well.
Cacao trees are native to equatorial South America and may have originated along the slopes of the Andes mountains. The trees are now cultivated in tropical regions throughout the world, particularly in Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Indonesia and Brazil, according to Cornell University.
The range of the cacao tree is limited to 20 degrees north or south of the equator with the majority growing in the hot and humid region -12.2 degrees C on either side of the equator.
According to Purdue University, cacao trees can tolerate temperatures as high as around 35 degrees Celsius and as low as 55 degrees. Minimum temperatures above 65 degrees and an average temperature of around 80 degrees are recommended for optimal growth.
Cacao trees do not tolerate drought well and require climates with high precipitation and humidity to thrive. The plant can tolerate rainfall from around 20 to over 150 inches per year. The soil, however, must drain well.
Wind-intolerant, cacao trees are often planted in regions where wind is low, typically in protected areas along the slopes of mountains and hillsides, usually below elevations of 1,000 feet. The trees are shade loving and are often grown under the forest canopy for more protection.
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