The Theobroma cacao tree is grown primarily in tropical regions, as it requires humidity and is generally drought intolerant. It grows under the canopy of other trees and produces cacao beans, from which chocolate and cocoa butter are made.
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Seed to Seedling
Seeds are best planted in shady areas of a nursery, or in a plant basket. The seeds will germinate within five weeks. Seedlings take two to three months to grow large enough to be transplanted to a permanent spot.
Seedling to Tree
Seedlings are transplanted in an area shaded by taller trees and protected from the wind. The soil should be loose and able to retain water in the top layers to encourage a good root system, but have good drainage in the lower layers to prevent water logging. Theobroma cacao trees take between two and three years to mature.
At 2 to 3 years, the tree will start to flower. Floral buds are removed from the tree until it is 5 years old. The tree will start to produce fruit at this point. The fruit is a large pod that goes from green to yellow or red, depending on the species of tree.
From pollination to ripened maturity takes three to four months. The ripe pods are cut from the tree and allowed to "mellow" on the ground for a while. The pods are then cracked open and the seeds are fermented before drying in the sun.
Once a Theobroma cacao tree has reached maturity, it will hit its prime fruit production in 17 to 18 years. Trees can continue this level of production for up to 20 years with proper care.
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