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Can Cacao grow in a monsoon garden?

June 14, 2010

Yes, it can!

Theobroma cacao (Sterculiaceae/Malvaceae), the cacao plant whose almond-like seeds (“beans”) can be used for cocoa and chocolate production, is a South American rainforest plant. Therefore, we did not even consider growing it here at Dokmai Garden, which has a pronounced monsoon climate with 6-7 months of drought.

One day I drove to the Agricultural University in Maejo, north of Chiang Mai, to pick up some Mekong fish for the pond at Dokmai Garden. I just happened to look to my left when I passed an orchard, and I hit the brakes. What on Earth!? Fully mature cacao trees, with plenty of fruits, growing in full sun! I could not believe my eyes, but the Thai pomologists explained that there have been selections made for a special Forastero variety, that can grow in full sunshine. I obtained five specimens for the garden, and some for the sales nursery. We planted our trees in the shade to be on the safe side. We have irrigated the plants every day. This was one year ago. Now in June, two of the tiny trees have already produced flowers. Exciting!

Eric Danell

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