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In real life, cocoa trees are famous for being hermaphroditic angiosperms from the Rosid class that are extremely bad at reproducing (they can be considered the giant panda of the plant world!). Also, they are a dying species.

In my futuristic world, they evolved dioecy. To be exact, they use the ZW sex determination system like birds (such as falcons, penguins, and swans), anguimorphs (such as Chinese crocodile lizards, monitor lizards, and Gila monsters), axolotls, American eels, lepidopterans (such as painted ladies, harvesters, morphos, and monarchs), blood flukes (Schistosoma), the world's oldest angiosperm (Amborella trichopoda), strawberries, and pistachios (which means the default state is to develop as male, and the parent responsible for determining the sex of the offspring is the mother).

So, I wonder if cocoa trees could evolve dioecy.

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    $\begingroup$ Plants sometimes do trivially simple genetic sex determination like animals, but most often they don't. Sex determination in plants is really different from family to family, and sometimes (quite often) different in different genera of the same family, and sometimes in different species of the same genus. It is quite common for a family to have both monoecious and dioecious genera. It sometimes (not often) happens that in the same genus one will find both monoecious and dioecious species. If even (rarely) happens that in the same species one will find both monoecious and dioecious lineages. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Nov 22, 2023 at 10:03
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    $\begingroup$ P.S. Theobroma cacao is a domesticated, widely cultivated species. It is most definitely not dying in any imaginable way. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Nov 22, 2023 at 10:04
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP : also, most domesticated species, whether plant or animal, would have difficulties reproducing in the wild, and could be considered to be "dying out" if left on their own. $\endgroup$
    – vsz
    Commented Nov 23, 2023 at 9:44
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    $\begingroup$ @vsz: If left on their own. But they are not left on their own; humans are part of their environment, and they are adapted to thrive under human care. Also, I cannot say much about plants, but dogs, cats, chicken, pigs, cattle, and goats have proven that they can survive and multiply very well if left on their own. (And where I'm from, we do get the occasional sunflower growing spontaneously on its own outside cultivation. I can only say sunflower because it's conspicuous enough to be noticed by a layman like me.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Nov 23, 2023 at 12:03

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Yes

Cocoa, as you said, is an angiosperm. According to Kumar et al, about 5% of all angiosperm species are dioecious, about 5% of all current angiosperm species are dioecious. So there.

The article in the link also says:

Dioecy is presumably a component of the evolutionary cycle for the origin of new species. Inbred hermaphrodite species assume dioecy. Later they suffer degenerate-Y-led population regression. Cross-hybridization between such extinguishing species and heterologous species, followed by genome duplication of segregants from hybrids, give rise to new species.

This could be a path to the rise of one or more new species of cocoa, if you can find some heterologous species (or make one in the lab).

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Yes... probably.

For one, I am extremely curious as to why you need cocoa beans to evolve a certain reproductive... what is even the word? Paradigm? And how does it effect worldbuilding? It seems oddly specific.

But by your familiarity with the subject you probably have a better understanding of it than me (I specialize in space-y stuffs), but there isn't anything explicitly prohibiting such an effect.

Either a different species with said paradigm might evolve to be similar to cocoa beans, or cocoa beans might evolve the new paradigm, for whatever reason. In the latter case, if not modified by humans, there would need to be some sort of evolutionary pressure to transition from one paradigm to the other, as nature tends to be lazy and doesn't fix things that aren't broken. But the explanation really doesn't matter.

If it isn't somehow important to the plot, your either lore-dumping needlessly or focusing on trivial details. In either case, just writing it in and saying that's just how it works is all the explanation the readers need.

I, as would pretty much any other reader, wouldn't even give it a second thought if you just said it's so and moved on.

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Genegeneering!

Is there any reason it couldn’t be MADE that way? You posit a futuristic world. We can’t quite do this YET, but it could be readily made as an engineered organism - either a hybrid with an existing plant, or a complete rework of the existing plant.

But why stop there? You can engineer almost anything to produce pods that make a cocoa-mimetic product. If cocoa as such no longer exists, whatever produces cocoa would probably be referred to as cocoa.

But if engineering won’t work, almost anything can be accomplished with enough time and selective pressure. Shifts in reproduction are a bit tricky, since it is often highly conserved. Plants can undergo some quite surprising genetic shifts due to viruses, for example.

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