Gardeners love new plants; a little extra money always comes in handy. Put those facts together and its no wonder that lucky money trees are a successful fad. Every restaurant and bank seems to have a Money Tree. It's a unique potted plant that is supposed to bring its owner financial gain. You'll know money tree (Pachira) by its attractive "pinwheel" (palmate) leaves and curiously swollen stems. Those trunks are often braided, appearing twisted together. One purveyor of these lucky plants tells a story about the origin of the plant's reputation. The tale includes an old Chinese farmer and sounds suspiciously similar to the Jack and the Beanstalk story. Whether the money tree's history is embellished or true, the plant has made a name for itself and is displayed in homes and businesses far and wide.
It really is a tree
While we know money tree as a potted plant, our samples are simply juveniles of what can become a whopping, full size, tree. It's a member of a group of trees from the American tropics. In nature (in frost-free zones) the tree can grow as big as some familiar maples and oaks. In a pot, money tree is sold in a range of sizes. Money tree (Pachira) can live for years as a potted tree, with proper care. The pot will restrict the growth of the tree. It's likely you'll never see the striking blossoms or impressive nuts on a potted Pachira. Blossoms and nuts? Yes, a money tree at home in the tropics will bloom and produce an impressive pod. The flowers open at night and are very fragrant. They are white to cream colored, some with accents of red, and uniquely feathery, reminiscent of a Mimosa flower.
At right: photo of blossom on Pachira aquatica, taken in conservatory at Matthaei Botanical Gardens, in Michigan. By Brock Heilman, used with permission, (many thanks)
Taking care of your investment in Money Tree
This care summary from EasyBloom.com agrees with what I read from Pachira owners. The plant should do well in a bright but indirect light. Very dim lighting causes the plant to decline, and direct sun can burn its leaves. Money tree's tropical origin suggests that it will like humidity, yet overwatering seems deadly. Many casual comments on blogs tell of Pachira plants succumbing to root rot. Keeping money tree's soil on the dry side seems to be most successful. (The truth is this: watering frequency, pot size relative to plant, humidity, and soil, all play parts in a complex system that either allows or avoids root rot in any potted plant.) Treat the plant to quality potted plant fertilizer, following label directions, during spring and summer. Sticky leaves or "spider webbing" between leaves may be signs of insect action. Treat the plant with insecticides labeled for indoor use. Money tree can be moved to an outdoor, shaded spot during your warm months. If your garden rarely or never gets below freezing, you can use Pachira as a landscape tree. With excellent growing conditions, or planted outside, a Money Tree will produce gorgeous plumelike flowers and impressive, football shaped, dry fruits. The fruits hold edible nuts. In fact, Malabar chestnut, French peanut, or Guinea peanut are other names used for these trees.
A minor point but one that some readers may find important
I strive for accuracy. Please note that while Pachira aquatica is usually the species name applied to commercial money trees, other species just may be in cultivation too. According to the site Exploring the World of Trees, more than one Pachira species is wearing the Money Tree hat. Most gardeners would not notice, or need to know, precisely which Pachira they own. For a money tree intended to reach its full potential as an in ground specimen, the difference may matter. The leaf venation, leaflet shape, and bloom color, vary from species to species. I've found that information on the Pachiras has been harder to track down than on my usual garden subjects. There are links below in Resources to help you with more detailed information if you are still curious.
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Money Tree art at left by the incomparable "Inky" Used here with permission, Thank you! Inky Art not to be used elsewhere without express permission of the creator.