C o c o a   T r e e

The cocoa is a native understory tree (15 to 20 feet) of the rain forest that has been introduced elsewhere in the world (e.g. Africa).

The tree produces large pods on its trunk and branches; a single tree produces about 70 pods each year. The ripe pods contain between 20 to 70 seeds or "beans", the source of cocoa and chocolate. The pods do not normally fall off the tree, or open when ripe. The seeds are normally dispersed by animals like monkeys, agoutis, and squirrels, which break open the pods to eat the sweet pulp, allowing the seeds to drop to the ground.

As cocoa pods ripen, they turn from green to yellow, then orange. This color change helps to attract animals that serve as fruit consumers and dispersal agents. Many tropical trees have evolved toxic chemicals to protect their leaves, but actually advertise their fruits with bright colors that convey to animals the message "eat me".