Chocolate Tree: A Natural History of Cacao

Overview

Young provides an overview of the fascinating natural and human history of one of the world’s most intriguing commodities: chocolate. Cultivated for over 1,000 years in Latin America and the starting point for millions of tons of chocolate annually consumed worldwide, cacao beans have been used for beverages, as currency, and for regional trade. After the Spanish brought the delectable secret of the cacao tree back to Europe in the late 16th century, its seeds created and fed an insatiable worldwide appetite for ...
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Overview

Young provides an overview of the fascinating natural and human history of one of the world’s most intriguing commodities: chocolate. Cultivated for over 1,000 years in Latin America and the starting point for millions of tons of chocolate annually consumed worldwide, cacao beans have been used for beverages, as currency, and for regional trade. After the Spanish brought the delectable secret of the cacao tree back to Europe in the late 16th century, its seeds created and fed an insatiable worldwide appetite for chocolate.  The Chocolate Tree chronicles the natural and cultural history of Theobroma cacao and explores its ecological niche. Tracing cacao’s journey out of the rain forest, into pre-Columbian gardens, and then onto plantations adjacent to rain forests, Young describes the production of this essential crop, the environmental price of Europeanized cultivation, and ways that current reclamation efforts for New World rain forests can improve the natural ecology of the cacao tree. Amid encounters with sloths, toucans, butterflies, giant tarantula hawk wasps, and other creatures found in cacao groves, Young identifies a tiny fly that provides a vital link between the chocolate tree and its original rain forest habitat. This discovery leads him to conclude that cacao trees in cultivation today may have lost their original insect pollinators due to the plant’s long history of agricultural manipulation. In addition to basic natural history of the cacao tree and the relationship between cacao production systems and the preservation of the rain forest, Young also presents a history of the use of cacao, from the archaeological evidence ofMesoamerica to contemporary evidence of the relationship between chocolate consumption and mental and physical health. A rich concoction of cultural and natural history, archaeological evidence, botanical research, environmental activism, and lush descriptions of a contemporary adventurer’s encounters with tropical wonders, The Chocolate Tree offers an appreciation of the plant and the environment that provide us with this Mayan “food of the gods.”             
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

Are you a chocoholic? Welcome to a verylarge club. Young here updates his 1994 sociological history of the cacao tree and the magic beans it produces. Those beans have been used as food, drink, and even currency over the last 1000 years-recent claims attribute positive medicinal and even psychological powers to this popular treat.


—Michael Rogers
Booknews
An engaging and scholarly examination of the natural history of cacao, its transformation into a cultivated crop of ancient and modern peoples, and its ecological connections to the rain forest. The author spent years researching cacao pollination in Costa Rica and shows how successful natural pollination of cacao is linked to the ecology of the tropical rain forest, concluding that the ties between cacao and the rain forest should prove beneficial both to the economic development and biological conservation in the lowland tropics. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
George Cohen
Young's engaging and scholarly book examines the natural history of cacao and its transformation into a cultivated crop of ancient and modern peoples and its ecological connections to the rain forest. Young points out that cacao is among a handful of New World tropical plants that, due to the Spanish conquest of Central America in the late fifteenth century, became a bridge between two distinct spheres of humankind: Western culture and society on one hand, and the ancient and indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica on the other. The author spent a great deal of time researching cacao pollination, and concludes that successful natural pollination of cacao is linked to the ecology of the tropical rain forest, and that the ties between cacao and the rain forest bode well for the future of both economic development and biological conservation in the lowland tropics.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781560983576
  • Publisher: Smithsonian Institution Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/1994
  • Series: Smithsonian Nature Bks.
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.27 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Allen M. Young is curator emeritus of zoology at the Milwaukee Public Museum, a former member of the Board of Directors of the Tirimbina Rainforest in Costa Rica, and author of Small Creatures and Ordinary Places.
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Table of Contents

Preface
Acknowledgments
1 Out of the Rain Forest: The Journey of Chocolate Begins 1
2 The Cultivation of Cacao Past and Present 14
3 Cacao and Agriculture in Costa Rica 48
4 Excursions into the Natural History of Cacao and Cacao Plantations 80
5 Nature in the Cacao: Mysteries of Pollination 107
6 Back to the Rain Forest: A Bridge between Agriculture and Conservation 155
Appendix. Names of Plants and Animals Mentioned in the Text 175
Bibliography 179
Index 192
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