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Ecophysiology of the cacao tree

Ecofisiologia do cacaueiro

Cacao, one of the world's most important perennial crops, is almost exclusively explored for chocolate manufacturing. Most cacao varieties belong to three groups: Criollo, Forastero and Trinitario that vary according to morphology, genetic and geographical origins. It is cropped under the shade of forest trees or as a monocrop without shade. Seedlings initially show an orthotropic growth with leaf emission relatively independent of climate. The maturity phase begins with the emission of plagiotropic branches that form the tree crown. At this stage environmental factors exert a large influence on plant development. Growth and development of cacao are highly dependent on temperature, which mainly affects vegetative growth, flowering and fruit development. Soil flooding decreases leaf area, stomatal conductance and photosynthetic rates in addition to inducing formation of lenticels and adventitious roots. For most genotypes drought resistance is associated with osmotic adjustment. Cacao produces caulescent flowers, which begin dehiscing in late afternoon and are completely open at the beginning of the following morning releasing pollen to a receptive stigma. Non pollinated flowers abscise 24-36 h after anthesis. The percentage of flowers setting pods is in the range 0.5 - 5%. The most important parameters determinants of yield are related to: (i) light interception, photosynthesis and capacity of photoassimilate distribution, (ii) maintenance respiration and (iii) pod morphology and seed fermentation, events that can be modified by abiotic factors. Cacao is a shade tolerant species, in which appropriate shading leads to relatively high photosynthetic rates, growth and seed yield. However, heavy shade reduces seed yield and increases incidence of diseases; in fact, cacao yields and light interception are tightly related when nutrient availability is not limiting. High production of non-shaded cacao requires high inputs in protection and nutrition of the crop. Annual radiation and rainfall during the dry season explains 70% of the variations in annual seed yields.

root growth; flowering; pod set; flushing; mineral nutrition

Brazilian Journal of Plant Physiology Centro de Ciências e Tecnologias Agropecuárias, , Universidade Estadual do Norte Fluminense Darcy Ribeiro - UENF, 28013-602 - Campos dos Goytacazes, RJ - Brazil, Fax: (+55)-22-2739-7116 - Campos dos Goytacazes - RJ - Brazil