Theobroma cacao L.

Etymology Genus Food of the gods
Species Olmec or Mayan word for chocolate
Family Malvaceae
Synonyms -
Common Names Cocoa, Cacao
Status Exotic: Cultivated Only
Form Tree
Native Distribution Tropical America


Theobroma cacao is a small tree to about 10m, seldom in cultivation, but quite common in our secondary forests that were once kampongs or plantations. The leaves are alternative, hairless and papery, with petioles that are swollen at the ends. The flowers are borne on branches or trunk of the tree.

Interesting Facts:

From Wee (2003), Cocoa is first discovered by the Spaniards in Mexico in the 16th century where the Mexicans made a drink by pounding the seeds with maize and boiling with capsicum. In 18th century, the tree found its way to other tropical regions, and Raffles brought the plant in 1823 from Malacca to Singapore where it was planted in the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

Presently, Cocoa beans are more commonly used to manufacture chocolates. The beans are shelled, roasted and grounded into a mass, where cocoa butter, sugar and other ingredients are added. Africa, South and Central America are the major producers of this commodity.

A small tree in Bollywood Veggie, 2020.

Swollen petioles.

A branch.



Cocoa fruits.


Wee YC. (2003) Tropical Trees and Shrubs: A Selection for Urban Planting. Sun Tree Publishing, USA. 392 pp.

Author: Jake
Posted: 2020-01-24