From Seedling to Tree
Farmers grow cocoa trees on small farms in hot, rainy environments, mostly in areas near the equator. Cocoa is a delicate and sensitive crop, and farmers must look after the trees, making sure the trees are protecting from the wind and sun. Such care is particularly important for younger trees, up to four years old.
Cacao seedlings are often sheltered by other trees, like banana, plantain, coconuts or hardwood trees. Seedlings take a few months to grow before they are ready to be transplanted. Once the trees are established, the farmers must fertilize the soil and watch the trees closely for signs of distress.
With careful care, most cocoa trees begin to bear fruit in the fifth year, although some cocoa trees can yield pods in the third and forth years. A cocoa tree reaches peek production in approximately 10 years and will continue producing pods at a high level for an additional 12-13 years. It is not uncommon to find trees 30-40 years old, still producing pods.
Cocoa farms are awash in color. Young cocoa leaves are large, red, and glossy, but darken to green when mature. Moss and colorful lichens often cling to the bark of cocoa trees, and in some areas beautiful orchids grow on the branches.
Thousands of tiny, waxy pink or white five-pedaled blossoms cluster together on the trunk and older branches. But only three to 10 percent of these blossoms will mature into full fruit.
The fruit grows as green or maroon pods on the trunk and main branches. Shaped like an elongated melon tapered at both ends, these pods ripen to a golden or sometimes scarlet hue with multicolored flecks.
(Source: World Cocoa Foundation)