Pollination and Pods

Cacao blossoms and different pod stages
Photograph of cacao blossoms and different pod stages

After two or three years, a cacao tree produces rice-sized flower buds in clusters along its trunk and main branches. The unscented white to pink flowers are pollinated by a tiny, gnat-like midge. On cacao plantations, only 3 out of 1000 flowers are pollinated, fertilized and progress to fruit.

Cacao Pods
Photograph of Ccacao pods, pulp and bean, from "The True History of Chocolate," by Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe. (New York: Thames and Hudson)

Cacao trees flower throughout the year, simultaneously producing pods in various stages of ripeness. From pollination to ripe pod takes about six months. The ripe pods, depending on their variety, can be red, yellow-green or purplish. They can be left on the tree for 2 or 3 weeks without spoiling, but it is important for the flavor that they are harvested only when ripe.