Theobroma cacao (meaning “Food of the Gods”) is a small understory tree (up to 30 feet tall) that grows beneath larger trees in tropical rainforests. It is a very particular tree and feels at home with regular rainfall, steady warm temperatures, constant high humidity, full shade and rich, well drained soil. If any one of these is missing, the tree may not bear ample fruit. The cacao tree only grows in tropical rainforests that fall within 20 degrees of the equator all around the world.
Cacao trees drop leaves year-round, creating abundant leaf litter that decays and enriches the soil. Like most tropical trees, they have shallow root systems that pick up nutrients and water quickly. After about three years, they produce their first pods. Some drop to the forest floor and decompose while others ripen and fill with seeds.
Cacao trees cannot release their own seeds like other trees. For seed dispersal,they depend on animals that puncture the fruitʼs tough skin to reach the delicious,
sweet pulp inside. Because cacao seeds are bitter, animals eat the sweet pulp but discard the seeds. Some sprout and become the next generation of trees.