The cocoa tree is a native to the American tropical rain-forest, which has evolved to utilize the shade of the heavy canopy. It originated in clumps along riverbanks in the Amazon basin on the eastern equatorial slopes of the Andes The Cacao Tree is a shade tolerant, moisture loving, understory rainforest tree. It naturally favors riparian zones so often in the wild is found along rivers. The trees live for up to 100 years, but cultivated trees are considered economically productive for only about 60 years
When grown naturally from seed the tree has a 2 meter deep taproot .however in cultivation, most plantations use vegetative reproduction (cuttings) and that results in a tree without the taproot. Naturally Cacao grows to a height of 15 meters, but cultivated trees are trimmed shorter to make harvesting easier. The main stem of the tree is called the Chupon and the leaves budding off of the chupon (where a fruit was) are a fan. When grown from seed, the Chupon grows single for 1.5 meters and then spreads into layers
The seeds are encased in a large colorful pod which grows close to the tree after a flower. The large pod is green while maturing and and turns yellow, orange, red or purple when ripe (some varieties are still green when ripe). The pods vary significantly in size, shape and texture. They range from about 10 cm to greater than 40 cm in length! They have 5 to 10 veins or longitudinal ridges and are spherical to oblong, shaped roughly like an American football.
Fruits are produced throughout the year, simultaneous with more flowering. It takes take 4 to 5 months to achieve the pod size, and then yet another month to ripen!
A ripe pod can be left on the tree for 2 or 3 weeks without spoiling. It is important for the flavor that it is harvested only when ripe, although it will not open and lose it’s seeds when overripe. If separated from the pod the seeds soon become infertile, but retain their fertility for a long time within the pod.
The pulp of the fruit is edible, but it is NOTHING like Chocolate. It is yellow, slippery and sweet and a bit less dense than an apple. I have seen it described as vaguely lemony, although some have suggested it tastes a bit like mango. I have never had it, but i’d love to try it!
Seeds are dispersed by monkeys and other small mammals which break through the pod wall to eat the pulp.