Germination of Theobroma Cacao
Germination of Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa/ Chocolate)
Theobroma Cacao, the Aztec’s Food of the Gods, is one of the trickier plants to grow. Cacao plants are quite rare in the United States, and viable seeds are even rarer. This is because the seeds have an extremely short viability. Only seeds obtained in the fruit or those that have been recently removed are suitable for growing. Dried cocoa beans are often sold for edible and aromatic applications, but do not be fooled into thinking you will be able to grow these. More importantly, beware of vendors selling these seeds for growing. If the beans are dry when you get them, they are no good.
The above picture shows two ripe Theobroma Cacao seed pods that we at World Seed Supply have been working with. The fruit on the right was opened first in the condition it appears while the one on the left a was allowed to ripen to a similar color before opening. The majority of the seeds in that first fruit were actually germinating right in the pod when it was opened. It is important to slice around the perimeter of the fruit so that you do not damage the cocoa seeds in the center. It is a good idea to squeeze the slices cacao pod to break it fully apart rather than slicing too deep. Once you have the two halves, you will seed a conglomeration of about 15-20 cocoa beans stuck together with each individual seed coated by a white fruity material. This material is the second factor that makes growing cacao tricky.
The white fleshy material on the outside of the cacao seeds is problematic because it is tough to remove and is an ideal place to harbor molds and disease that could harm the seed during germination. Although a bit unorthodox, we began the process by chewing and sucking off as much of the cacao fruit as possible. This decision was made only with the knowledge that the fruit is edible, and it proved to be quite tasty. Afterwards, a very sharp kitchen knife was used to shave off more of the remaining substance without damaging the brown seed coat. While one seed was being worked on, the other seeds were left soaking in water to keep from drying out and to keep any of the reminaing fruit material workable. After the shaving, the seeds were rubbed extensively with a dry towel until they were relatively clean. Needless to say, this was quite a chore for 15-20 seeds at a time. Fortunately, the fruits were done on different days.
Once the seeds were cleaned, we placed them in a bed of moist spagnum moss. This is the long-fiber kind sold in craft stores and used for hanging baskets. This should not be confused with peat moss that is used as a soil component. As we said, most of the seeds in the first cacao fruit were germinated already. Some of them were already into the advanced stages of germination. A few of these ones were put right into jiffy mix with spagnum moss around the top to keep the seed head from drying out. Over the next week or so, those in the bed were gradually moved into the same conditions. As the second fruit was opened, they took the place of those seeds in the spagnum bed. It should be noted that the seeds were monitored for mold. It seemed that a bluish green mold was active, but they were rinsed with a mild peroxide solution as needed.
Eventually, all of the cocoa seeds were transplanted into the jiffy mix with 100% germination (minus one healthy seedling that was dropped). The seedlings were then placed next to a simple incandescent bulb. In the week or so following transplantation, the ring of spagnum moss around the seed head was kept moist until the seed head grew tall enough to rise above it. At this point, the seed head was misted occasionally. As you can see, theobroma cacao leaves are now beginning to emerge!
Live Cacao Plants http://worldseedsupply.org/proddetail.php?prod=theoLP1