Photo by Melody

PlantFiles: Cocoa Tree, Cacao
Theobroma cacao

Family: Malvaceae (mal-VAY-see-ee) (Info)
Genus: Theobroma (thee-OH-broh-muh) (Info)
Species: cacao (kah-KAY-oh) (Info)

4 vendors have this plant for sale.

44 members have or want this plant for trade.

Edible Fruits and Nuts
Tropicals and Tender Perennials

15-20 ft. (4.7-6 m)
20-30 ft. (6-9 m)

12-15 ft. (3.6-4.7 m)

USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 C (35 F)
USDA Zone 11: above 4.5 C (40 F)

Sun Exposure:
Light Shade


Bloom Color:
White/Near White

Bloom Time:
Blooms all year


Other details:
Average Water Needs; Water regularly; do not overwater

Soil pH requirements:
5.6 to 6.0 (acidic)
6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)
6.6 to 7.5 (neutral)

Patent Information:

Propagation Methods:
From seed; germinate in a damp paper towel

Seed Collecting:
Seed does not store well; sow as soon as possible

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There are a total of 52 photos.
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9 positives
5 neutrals
No negatives

Gardeners' Notes:

Positive hemantpandya88 On Jan 25, 2013, hemantpandya88 from Udaipur
India wrote:

Hi dave, my name is hemant pandya and i am from india....i wanted some theobroma cacao that i can also grow some of its plants....and i searched everywhere for its seeds but i couldn't succeed.........but when i visited your blog i got some hope that may be i can get some seeds from i wanted to know that if there is any possibility for you to send me some of these seeds.... I'll be really thankfull.....please tell me if you can provide the seeds or not so that i can give u my address........

Neutral TNAndy On Nov 27, 2011, TNAndy from Sevierville, TN wrote:

I tried growing Cacao in Tennessee a couple of times over several years. These plants are extremely tender and tend to die if exposed to temperatures below about 40 degrees Fahrenheit (about 5 degrees Celsius). If the leaves wilt due to cold, the plant will surely expire--but this takes weeks. I've seen Cacao growing in the ground in the moist parts of Hawaii. I don't expect it would survive the winter outdoors anywhere else in the USA.

Despite these difficulties, growing Chocolate trees is just so cool I can't resist buying them. I replaced the heater in my sunroom and added some insulation, so I tried again this year, this time starting with seeds.

Growing from seed is effortless if the seeds are fresh. I bought one pod's worth (46 seeds) from a seed wholesaler in the Hilo area. Government regulations require seeds from Hawaii be cleaned of any fruit or pulp and be inspected prior to shipment. The seller then Priority Mailed them to me wrapped in moist paper towels. A few of the seeds sprouted a short taproot during shipment. Later, these turned out to be my strongest plants.

I filled 2 liter soda bottles with a well known commercial potting mix that comes with slow release fertilizer already mixed in. As instructed, I planted the seeds fat end down with just the tip-top showing above the soil line. Seeds planted on their sides (I couldn't always tell which was the fat end) took longer to germinate and did not seem as strong as the others. It could be seeds without a fat end are weak.

The seed sprouts a root from the fat end first. This root lifts the seed out of the soil. Soon the outer seed coat sloughs off and the cotyledons (the two halves of the seed) separate to reveal a stem and tiny leaves. After the plant grows 6-12 inches (15-30 cm) tall, the cotyledons turn black and fall off.

The saplings grow, generally with a single vertical trunk, to 4-5 feet (1 1/4-1 3/4m) tall where they branch into several nearly horizontal stems. The vertical part of the trunk does not continue up past this point. This branch point is called a jorquette. I have never seen any other plant grow this way without being cut or damaged.

All of the seeds I bought sprouted, but since then four have damped off. About half of the remainder are strong plants with large, bright green leaves; the other half seem to be lagging behind with pale green leaves, and several of these have brown spots on the leaves.

Cacao grows in spurts, called flushes, with resting periods in between. New leaves are about as strong as wet tissue paper and are easily damaged by high winds. Old leaves tend to die starting at the tip. This is a slow process. Several leaves on the plant can be half deep green and half crispy brown at the same time.

Cacao is not always the most attractive plant due to the above leaf damage.

Cacao does not grow a large root system and can be kept in a relatively small container. Exactly how large, I don't know. None of my plants have survived long enough to flower, much less reproduce, but 1 foot (1/3m) diameter pots have been plenty large for the first couple of years.

Let's hope for a cozy, warm sunroom from now on.

Positive Rhapsody616 On Apr 17, 2011, Rhapsody616 from Long Beach, CA wrote:

Planted them fresh from the pod, I have 15 little theobroma cacao Forastero happy and growing

Neutral trifinafiend3 On Oct 25, 2009, trifinafiend3 from Tampa, FL wrote:

Hi there. Several of you mentioned you were able to locate seeds when I've only been able to find already germinated seedlings available online. If you could provides the links or the sources I'd be very appreciative

-Thank you!!!

Positive ladydragonspell On Aug 18, 2007, ladydragonspell from Henderson, NV wrote:

I bought a red pod off of eBay which had 28 seeds. After reading on here how to plant them i tried both( this site was a great help to me), in a plastic bag and just put them in good soil with plastic over them. 26 seeds sprouted. Now that so many are growing i am thinking that I may need a greenhouse. I live in Nevada so winterizing it doesn't really need to be done. However I am worried about the summer months. Does any one have any pointers about what i should do next with my plants so all will continue to live and how to develop a greenhouse for them?

Positive wtliftr On Apr 6, 2007, wtliftr from Wilson's Mills, NC wrote:

OK, so I bought a cocoa pod off of the internet (from Florida), received it in the mail, and planted 15 of the 17 seeds, ate the other 2. It's been barely a week, and all 15 of the seeds have sprouted! I planted the seeds in a black plastic tray (from a microwaveable dinner) filled with ordinary potting soil. I watered the soil, and slipped the entire tray into a gallon sized ziploc bag. Then I set the entire thing in a warm sunny window. Now, 8 days later, all 15 seeds are sprouting. How much easier can you get? Looking forward to having fresh chocolate in a few years...

Positive tovis On Jul 25, 2005, tovis from Dorr, MI wrote:

I grow this plant and I have a new set that is currently germinating and had great success.

Neutral sleepybenja On Apr 9, 2005, sleepybenja from North Port, FL wrote:

I always wanted one. Was told it is very difficult to start them from seed, so they are not available often.

Positive DIRTGIRL911 On May 5, 2004, DIRTGIRL911 from Old Bridge, NJ wrote:

I've worked in a greenhouse maintaining crops of theobroma cacao. did LOTS of hand pollination. the key is to do it early in the morning, not too long after the flowers open. The pollen doesn't stay viable/stigmas not receptive for very long. Crossing with a different tree, even of the same variety helps a lot. self incompatibility is a pain in the rear... when you bring the pollen to the stigma, rub it right at the tip to where it frays a bit. it worked for me, no scientific backing on that, but it surely got the job done!!

Positive foodiesleuth On Apr 7, 2004, foodiesleuth from Honomu, HI (Zone 11) wrote:

Cacao is being cultivated commercially now on the Big Island of Hawaii. I have a small tree in my back yard, planted last fall. It has grown about a foot and half since it was planted. We have quite rainy conditions where we live with already 48.35 inches of rain falling year to date (April 7, 2004) - the area where I live is in the vicinity of the rainiest city in the world, Hilo

Neutral Monocromatico On Apr 6, 2004, Monocromatico from Rio de Janeiro
Brazil (Zone 11) wrote:

Even though its not native from the forests of Rio de Janeiro, I have seen a few of these plants growing naturally in our area. Ocasionally, they are planted on yards, but most of them are in the Botanical Garden or the Hortum near the National Museum.

Besides the nuts used to make chocolate, the fruit has a white pulp that is edible, but has a weird taste.

In Bahia state, where most of the Cacao is planted commercially, they have faced in the last 2 decades problems with a certain fungus that ends up killing the trees.

Positive mikevan On Apr 2, 2004, mikevan from Comanche, TX wrote:

Mine is successfully flowering for the first time this year as well. It produced flowers last year but I believe soil roaches in their container ate them. I over-summered the trees outside and the ants took care of that problem. Now I've got two bunches of flowers on one of my 3 forasteros with a solitary open flower (just this morning). I don't think the flower can self, but geez - having a pod or two growing would be so cool. I wonder if the pollen can at least be saved for future flowers?

For anyone considering cultivating - seeds/plants are notoriously difficult to find because the seeds have practically zero shelf-life - mine came from a friend who cut a pod for me and sent me the seeds. In the 5 days it took to get to me, the seeds already had roots. Once you have them, sow immediately.

Cacao is a moisture loving, humid loving, heavy feeding plant. Never let the media dry out - tho don't keep it waterlogged either. If indoors, keep it surrounded by other plants to help keep the humidity in that area higher.

They like bright light, but only a little direct sunlight - an East or West window is fine. South is pushing it. Outside during the growing season (North of Zone 11), find a tree with light shade to put the containerized trees under. Make sure the temps are *reliably* warmer than 50F. Above 60F is better. This tree likes temps in the 80's - which makes them so-so as a house-plant. But it's possible - near the windows it will be warmer, after all. A hothouse or heated sunroom is a better location for them if grown in temporate regions, however.

It takes 4-5 years for criollo and trinatario cacao's to flower, 3-5 years for forastero, IIRC. Mine started in 3 - now they're in their 4th. If, by luck or skill, you get one (or more) pollinated, it takes several months for the pod to mature. The seed of the pod - 20-60, are what cocoa is made of. They're fermented for a few days in their pulp, then washed and dried for a couple of weeks until the cotyledons turn brownish. Then they can be roasted at 230F for 20 minutes or so (experimentation is required for each batch to narrow it down), and ground and mixed with sugar and hot milk for a yummy drink. There's a lot of other recipes too.

A very good book I recommend is "The New Taste of Chocolate - A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes" by Maricel E. Presilla.

Have fun...

Positive duliticola On Nov 25, 2003, duliticola from Longfield, Kent
United Kingdom (Zone 8b) wrote:

This plant is supposed to need constantly warm and humid conditions to grow. All I can say is that I have one in my computer room which I grew from a seed collected in N.Cuba and which has lived its life in front of a S. facing window which has net curtains across it. The RH has never been > 50 % and is normally around 46% ( measured with a modern calibrated digital laboratory instrument). Due to problems with the domestic heating the temperature in the room last winter was often below 50 F. It has large attractive leaves, which are initially red or shrimp pink and change to yellowy green and finally dark green as they mature. Mature leaves are glossy and 13"-18" long.

The plant is 4 years old and has started to flower. I know that in the wild they are pollinated by midges and/or ants, and that there may be self-incompatability problems with some clones. However, I live in hope of getting pods.

Neutral IslandJim On Sep 28, 2003, IslandJim from Keizer, OR (Zone 8b) wrote:

The roasted seeds of this plant are ground to make--ta-da--chocolate.

The only live specimen of this plant that I have seen is growing in the orchid house at Marie Selby Botanical Garden, Sarasota, Florida. That means it's way too tender for my backyard.

But I find flowers and fruits forming directly on trunks and branches compelling. What survival mechanisms are at work here? And why? The only other plants that flower and fruit like that [that come to mind here and now, at least] are the eastern and western redbuds, the American beautyberry, and the Jew plums. And they don't seem to have a lot of environment in common with the cacao. Or each other, for that matter.


This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:

Boca Raton, Florida
Hollywood, Florida
Merritt Island, Florida
West Palm Beach, Florida
Honomu, Hawaii
Kurtistown, Hawaii
Wailuku, Hawaii
New Orleans, Louisiana
Seattle, Washington

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