The 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.
was exported to Europe in 1585 but the first chocolate bar was not made
until 1848. The purine alkaloids theobromine and caffeine
are responsible for the stimulant effect of cocoa and chocolate and
contribute to bitter cocoa flavor.
The tree grows between ±15 ° latitude, requires 18-32 °C and 1500-2000
mm rain with high humidity. The tree grows 12-15 meter tall (in plantations
~ 7m). Seedlings form a jorquette (shown) with 5 plagiotropic branches.
After 2-3 years the tree produces many cauliflorous
flowers and fruits develop after about 5 years.
The fruits grow for 150-180 days, contain 30-40
seeds surrounded with mucilaginous pulp, and produce 10-35 cm long pods
with recalcitrant seeds (no germination after dessication). A good tree
produces up to 40 pods/year
The plant is pollinated by midges (Forcipomyia sp). 60% of the
flowers never get pollinated, & abscise within 48 hours. Only about 5% of
pollinated flowers receive enough pollen to initiate fruit development.
The flowers are small but exquisetly complex and delicate. Flower have characteristic,
long pedicels and their cup-shaped petals form a hood over the fertile stamens.
Five sepals and sterile staminodes surround the pistil.
Diseases of Cocoa:
Up to 30% of World's production is lost mostly through
fungal deseases such as:
Witches' Broom - Moniliophthora perniciosa causes up to 90% loss
of yield, attacks all meristematic tissues, flushes, cushions and
young pods. It causes distorted flushes, "strawberry fruits"
and infected pods.
Moniliophthora Pod Rot (Moniliophthora roeri) Cocoa Swollen Shoot Virus
and Cocoa Pod Borer (Conopomorpha cramerella)