aren't naturally suited to the UK,
but with some care and
attention (or a shaded, humidity-controlled greenhouse), they can be
nurtured and toughened up to some degree as indoor pot plants, provided
aware that potential disaster is always hiding around the corner, and
provided that you realise that if the plant survives, its going to want
to become a tree. If you can recreate the conditions of a semishaded
rainforest canopy region, a plant should be happy.
There's a successful,
decent-sized chocolate tree available for viewing in the
House at Kew Gardens,
but it's in the
area, with spritzers constantly misting the air. This isn't something
that most of us can do at home.
Plant the sprouting
beans in a compost-sand mix and incubate warm and moist. I used a large
transparent 500ml yoghourt pot for initial potting, with a matching
clear 500ml pot inverted as a cover, then put several of these into a
larger transparent box with water in the bottom, with another matching
inverted box as a lid, then put the whole thing into an airing
cupboard. This allowed the monitoring of shoot and root growth and
watching for possible fungal infections without creating a sudden
temperature drop when the
cupboard door was opened. Once the seedlings were two or thee inches
high, they were moved to a larger incubator, with small fluorescent
lights providing light and limited heating, again with a double- wall,
and with a little water in the outer box for humidity.
After they reached a
foot in height, I started to acclimatise them to room conditions (at
which point further growth slowed dramatically).
Growth is intermittent
and sporadic, and happens in spurts. This probably gives the plant
against pests that target fresh growth, but makes it more difficult to
assess the affect of different environments and treatments.
The owner of an "indoor" chocolate tree
owner has to be mindful of three main dangers:
Resist the temptation
to put a potted chocolate tree outside in full sun on a
summer day to let it get a bit of air. One day of strong summer
sunlight = full leaf-drop. While the resulting "stick" can
theoretically be coaxed to
start sprouting again, this can require an intensive-care "bubble" and
several months of attention, and really, if this happens, you're
probably better off starting again from scratch. If you are growing
these plants from seed, plant twice as many as you want: accidents are
inevitable, and if you are building an incubator , it might as well be
housing a whole batch of seedlings rather than just one or two.
them - the paper-thin leaves will quickly dehydrate and die
and/or light will kill them - the thin leaves will
will kill them
- the leaves will fall off, leaving you with an unattractive
dead-looking brown stick.
The plants can get to a couple of feet high before they start
branching, which makes for a more boring house-plant (especially as the
lower leaves drop). To get a more bushy and interesting shape (that's
looks less like a stick with leaves on), you can deliberately damage
the very tip of the plant (once it's established) to encourage adjacent
tissue to bud out into multiple branching stems, although doing this to
a "precious" plant requires a certain amount of nerve.
The natural enemy of
the indoor chocolate tree is the vacuum
established indoor chocolate tree may accumulate some dust on its large
dark-green leaves, and when someone is having a bit of a hoover about,
they see the dust and instinctively lift the vacuum cleaner nozzle to
somewhere near the plant ... at which point the entire plant tries to
hurl itself bodily into the vacuum cleaner, Kamikazi-style. Those big
paper-thin leaves and bendy green stems mean that a split second after
wafting your cleaner past the plant, you're hearing the
noise of a chocolate tree rattling about inside a vacuum cleaner. It
has to be seen to
be believed. Brief everyone in your household about your tree's
dangerous affinity for vacuum cleaners. Chances are they still won't
you until it happens to them.
You may be able to get
away with putting your tree on a window shelf
near a radiator (which
it getting a chill), as long as the
updraft doesn't play over the leaves. The best solution if the tree is
in a waterproof
pot, and really has to
near a radiator, is to place the pot in a large, deep, wide bowl and
keep this bowl topped up
with water, and to use jutting placemats to deflect any rogue updrafts.
The water will give the plant's roots additional temperature stability,
will increase humidity on those dangerous hot days, and will help to
humidify any radiator updrafts as they play over the bowl and pass over
the surface of the
window-glass, one day of strong UK summer sunlight can be
enough to badly damage a plant, so listen out for "UV" alerts and
sunblock warnings on the weather forecast. Spritz your plant once or
twice a day during sunny weather, and consider also spritzing the
the window glass: this is an excellent way of providing local humidity,
and also scattering strong sunlight. Wrapping a waterproof pot's
exterior in paper allows water from the bowl to rise up by capillary
action and then evaporate, helping local humidity.
The ideal room for a
chocolate tree would probably be a warm
shower-room with strong sunlight, which will already be scattered by
the room's frosted window-glass (so no light-scorching), in constant
(so high humidity).
There are accounts of
people's beloved chocolate trees dropping dead when someone has left a
greehouse door open for a few hours in cold weather. Avoid.
The woody leaves make
chocolate trees unappetising to most creatures, but when kept indoors, wooly aphids
may attack the soft
crowns and leaves.
The accelerated growth-spurt that he leaves go through means that a
bite to a leaf when small from a wooly aphid can translate into a large
hole, blemish or tear when fully sized. standard counter-measures for
wooly aphids can be used: pick them off the plant with a bamboo skewer,
and spray with a solution of organic washing up liquid.
Fungus is liable to be
a problem in any situation where a plant is kept in a warm,
extreme-humidity environment (such as when germinating tropical seeds
or incubating seedlings). Warm, moist compost encourages fungus, and
happy fungus will then attack plants. A quick dusting or spraying with Bordeaux mixture should
You're liable to
encounter these problems when trying to grow or incubate other tropical
plants in warm, moist conditions, so it's a good idea to source some
Bordaux mixture (or a substitute) before you start.
copyright © E. Baird, 2007