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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, February 13, 2010

Cacao plant a delicious addition to your garden

By Jayme Grzebik

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Pods produced by the cacao tree contain seeds that are used to make chocolate.

Skip Bittenbender

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Theobroma cacao, also called cacao or chocolate tree, is native in parts of Mexico to Central and South America. The flowers bloom directly from the trunk and branches of the tree and produce the cacao pod that encloses the seeds, which are fermented to make cacao powder for delicious chocolate treats. Although making chocolate from cacao seeds is very involved, the chocolate tree is a plant that can be a conversation starter in your home garden.

Inquire about the availability of chocolate trees at your local plant nurseries. If they don't have them in stock, they may know where you can purchase one, or they may be able to take suggestions for future sales. You may have to hunt around.

Cacao can be planted in a pot, but must be transplanted into the garden later. Seedlings are easy to plant, but they require certain growing conditions in Hawai'i. For example, cacao trees are sensitive to our trade winds. The leaves are easily tattered or completely torn from the tree in high wind. To avoid damage, use a tree, hedge, wall or house as a windbreak. The cacao tree is an understory tree and should be placed under the canopies of tall overhanging trees or next to buildings or structures that can provide some shade from direct sunlight.

Cacao trees are pollinated by crawling or flying insects. Planting two trees will enhance pollination. Plant trees 6 to 8 feet apart by removing them from the pot, placing the tree in a hole, and filling with a mix of compost and native soil so that the original soil level on the tree is even with the surface of the ground. Water daily until the tree begins to grow. Do not let water stand in the hole. Stake the tree for support for at least two to three months.

To learn more about making chocolate from scratch by University of Hawai'i Specialist Skip Bittenbender, visit the Web site for the UH Urban Garden Center at www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/ougc. You will also find homemade chocolate recipes from chef Dale Thomas, Kapi'olani Community College Culinary Arts instructor.

The Urban Garden Center in Pearl City hosts its annual Plant & Produce Sale 9 a.m. to noon today. Thomas will be presenting free cooking demonstrations at 9, 10 and 11 a.m., and O'ahu Master Gardeners will be answering plant questions. Happy Valentine's Day from the O'ahu Master Gardeners!

Jayme Grzebik is an urban horticulturist with the University of Hawai'i College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources Cooperative Extension Service. She can be reached at grzebik@hawaii.edu.