We all love chocolate. Unfortunately, only a few people know where it really comes from or which tree the fruits from which it is made come from. The cocoa tree Theobroma cacao L. is the only tree of its kind that is used for production. However, there are different varieties that differ in their aroma. They are roughly divided into three types, the fine cocoa Criollo and Trinitario and the consumer cocoa Forastero. These have been crossed for centuries and explain the thousands of varieties.

Cocoa tree, Theobroma cacao

By the way, theobroma means food of the gods. The L. in the name comes from the scientist Carl von Linne, who gave the cocoa plant its name.

Today it is mainly consumer cocoa that is grown. Although it doesn’t taste as good as fine flavor cocoa, it is preferred for the very simple reason that it is significantly more resistant to the various diseases that occur in mass cultivation.

Cocoa trees grow in tropical forests. They reach heights of 10 to 15 meters. However, they are grown in plantations for the cocoa harvest. There they are trimmed so that they are no higher than 2 to 4 meters. The tree can be recognized by its large, sword-like leaves. It belongs to the evergreen family. The flowers appear directly on the thin trunk and the larger branches. They are pedigree flowers. They bloom all year round and also produce fruit all year round. A cocoa tree can produce up to 100,000 flowers per year, but only after about 10 years. Of these, however, only about 30 to 50 fruits ripen.

The cocoa pods have a yellow, yellow-red or red to red-brown color, depending on the variety. The fruits are large, about 15 to 25 cm long and look like a thick cucumber! The cocoa beans are the seeds of the fruit, which are embedded in a light fruit pulp that also tastes a bit like cucumber, but is slightly sweet, no comparison with chocolate, not even remotely.

Cocoa powder, cocoa butter and chocolate are made from the seeds. The pulp can also be used as fresh fruit, for desserts and drinks.

Cocoa tree – planting and care

Anyone who wants to cultivate a cocoa tree has made a lot of plans. It’s not impossible, but you have to meet a few requirements. It doesn’t work that easily in the pot in the living room. Despite the best care, it will hardly get any fruit, this is hardly possible outside of tropical areas. In addition, at least two trees are required to pollinate the fruit alone. Important are: high humidity, a room temperature never below 20 degrees, moist soil and absolutely protection from the sun. These conditions must be maintained 12 months a year. If all of them are fulfilled, there is little to prevent the cocoa tree from thriving. But it will never reach the size of wild specimens in the rainforest. Most of the trees cultivated in the living room do not grow taller than 1 to 1.5 meters,

Reaching the level of humidity is often a problem. Actually, the plant should be sprayed with water several times a day. However, this can lead to mold growth on the leaves. It is better to place a humidifier right next to the plant or, even better, an air mist maker.


The banana tree is a shade plant. In their homeland, young trees in particular thrive under the leaves of banana trees and larger ones under oil palms, teak or mahogany trees. At home you have to come up with something else. A closed winter garden that can be heated is ideal. But there is also a room to the west with large windows and underfloor heating. In summer, the tree can go outside to rain down. But you have to pay close attention to the wind. The young leaves are very, very soft and tear apart in very low winds.

  • Shade plants – no direct sun
  • It is ideally placed in the shade of larger trees or in a shaded winter garden
  • Young trees in particular need shade
  • Sensitive to major temperature fluctuations
  • Temperatures not below 20 ° C, not even at night
  • Harvest failures occur at temperatures below 16 ° C
  • Maximum temperatures 30 ° C, maximum 35 ° C.
  • In winter it makes sense to use plant lamps to provide additional light.

Plant substrate

If you want to cultivate the cocoa plant in the bucket, you have to choose a very deep one, because the tree is a taproot. The root penetrates to a depth of one meter (it takes years until then). Therefore it is necessary to use a deep vessel. If you can plant the tree in the winter garden, you also have to provide a thick layer of soil. In addition, the tree ideally gets different layers of earth.

  • Moist and deep substrate
  • Rich in organic matter
  • Switching between wet and dry is more harmful than beneficial.
  • In any case, lime-free.
  • Layers of the earth:
    • Top layer of humus
    • Underneath is a thick layer of clay, a clay-loam or a loam layer
    • This guarantees that the tree can absorb plenty of water.
    • Peat mixed in helps retain water. Do not use too much, there is a risk of too much moisture in the soil.
    • I’ve read about good experiences with Seramis, maybe that’s an approach that should be tried, but only when the sapling is out of its infancy.


When planting, it must be ensured that the roots have enough space below. The substrate is extremely important for the cocoa tree to feel comfortable. Care should be taken when planting, the roots are quite delicate.

  • Since the trees grow slowly under our conditions, it is sufficient to repot it about every three years.
  • The vessel should always be a little larger.

Watering and fertilizing

The cocoa tree needs sufficient water, but does not tolerate waterlogging. The soil must be kept evenly moist. Since the tree grows very little here, you don’t have to water that much. In its homeland, the cocoa tree is in the rainforest, where it is usually very humid, but rarely really wet.

  • Pour only with rainwater!
  • In a pinch, stale mineral water is also possible.
  • The cocoa tree is sensitive to lime.
  • Keep the soil evenly moist, not wet
  • The more leaves, the more thirst (evaporation)
  • No waterlogging!
  • Casting errors can be recognized by the brown leaves.
  • For potted plants, it is advisable to water from below. Any remaining water must be removed!
  • Fertilizing – from April to September every 10 to 14 days with complete fertilizer
  • Organic fertilizer is ideal, as the salt content in the soil then remains low.

To cut

It is better not to cut a cocoa tree, it will develop evenly. In plantations, however, the trees are severely trimmed, so it is entirely possible. So if you want to prune, you should do so at the end of the hibernation. However, I have also read that pruning was carried out during the growing season. So it almost doesn’t seem to matter when you cut.


Of course, a winter garden with a subtropical climate is ideal, so it has to be warm and this also includes high humidity, a climate just like in the tropical rainforest. If you don’t have such a space, you can also use a heating mat in winter by placing it on the floor or the window frame. Underfloor heating is also good. Then you only have to pay attention to a high level of humidity, without which it does not work. 70% are necessary, but even higher is better.

  • The floor temperature should not drop below 20 ° C
  • Maintain uniform soil moisture
  • Reduce the watering rate during hibernation
  • If the leaf falls, continue to reset
  • Spray daily if the humidity is too low


The cocoa tree is propagated by sowing. This is possible all year round, but it must be made from fresh seeds. They lose their ability to germinate very quickly, after just 14 days! There is also the possibility of propagating a cocoa tree by cuttings or mosses, the only problem is that you need one of the trees and that is a great difficulty for us. In order to be able to obtain seeds yourself, two cocoa trees are required.

  • You can sow at any time of the year. So if you get hold of a seed, sow it right away.
  • Soak the seeds in lukewarm water for a day.
  • A mini greenhouse is suitable as a planter.
  • Germ-free potting soil is used as a substrate.
  • Cover the seed 1 cm with soil
  • Bright, but without direct sun
  • Temperatures around 25 ° C and high humidity are important
  • Germination time – about 14 days
  • As soon as the plant has formed two pairs of leaves, it can be moved to a suitable container. Attention must be paid to the sensitive roots.

Diseases and pests

In the countries where it is grown, the cocoa plant is very susceptible to diseases and pests. This is due to the monoculture and the stark cut. That’s why a lot of chemistry is used to contain the diseases and insects. Nevertheless, around 20 percent of all trees planted fall out every year.

Fungal diseases mainly occur as diseases, e.g.

  • Brown, cocoa or black rot (Phytophthora Pod Rot) – can attack fruits and wood, widespread, causes crop failures of up to 50%
  • Witch’s Broom Disease (Crinipellis Perniciosa) – broom-like growths on the saplings, only in the tropical rainforest of America, major crop failures

There are also viral diseases such as

  • Swollen Shoot Virus – transmitted by aphids, swelling on branches and petioles, trees must be removed, otherwise the virus will spread and pests, e.g.
  • Javanese cocoa moth (Conopomorpha cramerella Snellen) – lays eggs on cocoa pods. The larvae dig into this, the fruit is lost

Fortunately, we do not have these diseases. Nevertheless, the cocoa tree is threatened by all sorts of harmful things. In most cases, too little humidity, too little soil temperature, too little light or too much soil moisture kill it. There are also fungus gnats. Here it is mainly the larvae that live in the soil and attack the roots.

Note: Brown leaf margins are not a cause for concern. Almost all cocoa trees have that.

The cocoa tree is without a doubt an interesting plant. However, it presents a challenge in terms of its care, starting with the location, the plant substrate, the humidity, the temperatures, the shade, the pollination and so on. I admit, I have never tried this plant before, so I have no experience whatsoever. The research was extremely interesting. We have underfloor heating, but almost only sun and in winter the humidity is far too low. I can’t raise it as much as the cocoa tree needs. We have so many books that they start to go moldy, we already had that in our times in Africa. So I’ll keep sticking to the fruits and chocolate, it’s less complicated.

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