Cacao, Yellow (Theobroma cacao)
Yellow Cacao is a 20-30 foot-high, evergreen, understory tree in the countries of central and northern South America. Thousands of small pink or white flowers bloom directly on the trunk or older branches of the tree from January to June, but only 3% to 10% of them develop into fruits. Prominently veined, lance-shaped leaves, up to 24 inches long hang from the branches. The thick-skinned, yellow pods, or fruits, are up to 12 inches long, and ovoid like a football, with longitudinal ridges. They have about 60 beans inside surrounded by a white or pinkish gooey pulp. Cacao is a member of the Mallow family (Malvaceae), and its generic name, Theobroma, appropriately means “food of the gods” in Greek.
The white beans are the source of chocolate, cocoa powder, cocoa butter, and chocolate liquor. The Mayans, Aztecs, and Toltecs of ancient Mexico, Central, and South America cultivated the tree and used the beans for currency They dried and ground the beans and mixed them with water to make a beverage that they spiced and sometimes used ceremonially. Spanish explorers brought the beans back to Europe, and from there, the chocolate industry was born.
Cacao trees grow best in dappled or partial shade in rich, well-draining soil. They will only flower in temperatures above 68 degrees and at least two trees are needed since they cross-pollinate to produce fruits. They should be watered regularly and fertilized with a complete fertilizer every 3 to 4 weeks. Cacao is hardy in USDA zones 9 to 11, with frost protection.