Sailing through the brackish lagoons of Kerala back waters, I spot cocoa plantations.
A quick stop turned into over an hour. This was my debut with cocoa trees, in early 2000’s. At that age, what caught my fancy was not the not the cocoa or the chocolates, it was the cocoa tree flowers instead.
What I was told then, rarely finds such a glorious mention in most books on chocolates.
Cocoa trees flower continuously once they reach maturity. The pink or white five-petaled blossoms are found in small clusters on the trunks and lower branches of the tree.
Botanists refer to this phenomenon as cauliflory. It is quite different from other trees that produce their flowers and fruit only on the tips of the smallest branches. Fewer than 5% of cacao flowers are pollinated. These flowers can only be pollinated by small, gnat-like midges that can work their way through a cacao blossom’s complicated parts.
“Cherelles” are small pods that die on the tree before they mature. Even though fewer than 5% of flowers are pollinated, the tree will still produce more fruit than it can healthfully support.
In consequence, the tree naturally “weeds out” some of these energy-draining youngsters (up to 90%), which blacken and shrivel during their early stages of growth. These sticky cherelles contribute to leaf litter and provide homes for the midge population.
Cacao pods are the fruits of the cacao tree. Successfully pollinated flowers mature into this ribbed and oval fruit. The ripening process takes about five months. It is quite common to see both flowers and pods together on the same tree throughout the year.
This article originally appeared on ‘The chocolate factory’