The “Pachira aquatica” is a popular evergreen foliage plant with promise of great fortune, financial prosperity and positive energy, according to both ancient Asian folklore and Masters in the art of Feng Shui. Let’s take a closer look at this wonderful plant’s history, and learn how to get the most from this rare species.
Pachira aquatica in All its Glory
For me, the Pachira aquatica promises a year-round display. It boasts bright, glossy palmate leaves, borne atop thick and ornate woody trunks. This results in a canopy of tropical foliage that sunlight gently filters through.
You’ll usually find this tropical houseplant sold as a braided stem version, rather than a solitary trunk. Here they take 3 or more stems and plait them together to form a single trunk. The delicate palmate leaves grow from these trunks on slender stems, towards direction of the light.
Natively this attractive specimen plant is a tropical wetland tree. It’s commonly found growing in swampland and along wet river banks in Central and South America, from Mexico right down to Costa Rica.
The Pachira aquatica is a member of the Mallow sub-family, or Malvaceae. That said, it’s also commonly referred to as the “Malabar Chestnut”, “Wild Kapok Tree”, and “Money Tree”. Additionally, in Germany it’s known as a “Cocoa Tree”.
Regardless of its alter ego, it has a great deal of admirers within the worldwide house plant community , especially in Japan. Its open canopy form and moisture-loving nature make this an attractive, easy-care choice for the busy and bustling amongst us.
History and Meaning of the Asian Money Tree
The “Pachira” genus name is derived from an ancient language native to Guyana, where it translates to “sweet water nut”. Its Latin translation, however, means “aquatic”. This is in reference to its natural water-loving root system and growing nature.
There’s a symbolic story its “Money Tree” moniker:
A poor man was praying for money and found a rather odd-looking plant. Thinking this was an omen, he took the plant home, and in time, propagated its seeds. The poor man made money from selling new plants grown from the Pachira’s seeds, and was a poor man no longer.
Because of this inspiring story, it’s a very popular symbolic plant in Asia, said to bring good fortune and financial prosperity to all who own one.
This plant’s thick trunk is naturally able to store water during hotter and drier periods, when there is less rainfall. This can be advantageous for a house plant, and over-watering should be avoided.
In its natural habitat, it will reach heights of up to 18 metres. The growth is rapid and a natural leaf canopy is quickly established. Indoor-grown examples won’t reach these heights, thankfully: you can expect a more viable height of around 1.5 metres. The beautifully green, glossy foliage canopy will spread to around a metre when mature.
The Pachira aquatica in Flower
In Central and Southern America, this interesting wetland plant can often be spotted in full flower. The flowers are delightful, naturally occurring in plants that have reached over 1.8 m/6 feet tall. These are reportedly some the largest tree flowers in the world.
Large, showy, and especially fragrant when the sun goes down, their bright yellow, long, narrow petals gradually peel open like a banana. Once open, they reveal their lengthy, golden yellow and orange-tipped bristle-like stamens. A real spectacle, should you be lucky enough to spot them. They usually grow upright in infancy, towards the light.
Pachira aquatica Fruits
Fruits of this native wetland tree come in the form of large pod-like nuts. These nuts are woody, brown in colour, and reach an impressive 12 inches long and up to 2.5 inches in diameter. Inside these pods grow the seeds, which are fully edible nuts. They look a little like chestnuts, but taste more like peanuts. These nuts can be eaten fresh or roasted, and even ground into flour to make bread.
Many Pachira trees are commercially grown for these edible nuts, which shoot from their bursting pods once ripe.
Choosing your Plant
As I’ve mentioned, many Pachira specimens will be sold with a braided stem, for ornamental and aesthetic impact. I would, however, try to choose a plant with a single, unbraided stem, as these specimens develop into a far healthier tree.
Planting your Pachira aquatica
Choosing the right compost can make a huge difference to your houseplants, affecting pretty much every area of growth. The Pachira aquatica prefers a well-draining soil mix, loose in structure and balanced in nutrients. I recommend using a good-quality houseplant compost, adding some drainage as you go.
The drainage can be in the form of either sharp sand, vermiculite, or perlite: all of these mediums will result in a looser and better draining compost mix. Add a small handful of slow-release osmacote (granule fertilizer), into the mix, which will aid in your plant’s growth and establishment.
Light and Temperature Requirement
Pachiras require quite a high light environment. Gradually introduce yours to this kind of light after the darker winter months. Indirect filtered sunlight is best, avoiding the hot midday sun, as this can scorch the leaves. Find a sheltered spot, away from radiators and drafts: somewhere you can periodically rotate your plant. This is necessary for balanced foliage growth, as their leaves grow outwards in search of the light.
An ideal temperature for keeping your plant happy will be around 65–75F/18–24C. Winter temperatures can be on the cooler side: 65F/18C.
Just an extra tip: Once you’ve placed your tree in a suitable site, try to avoid moving it. Sometimes this causes stress to the plant, which will cause it to drop its leaves.
How to Care for your Pachira aquatica
Although the Pachira aquatica is a water-loving plant, you must take care not to over-water it (as with all potted plants). Its natural habitat is a very different environment, where weather systems determine both wet and dry periods. These ensure that the plant has just the right amount of water to survive.
In a home habitat, your plant still needs wet and dry periods to keep it healthy.
Water once a week throughout the growing season, I recommend regular watering maybe once a week. Allow the top of your compost to dry out a little in between watering. Throughout the winter, however, you can hold back on the watering, allowing the compost to really dry out before watering again.
Excessive water around the roots can cause rot, and further problems arise once the air is cooler and the growing period has passed.
All tropical forest plants like a medium to high humidity environment, and the Pachira aquatica is no exception. Misting is always a great way to cleanse the leaves of dust particles and create a little humidity in the air.
Another great method to raise the humidity levels is to place your plant on a tray of pebbles. Once sited, pour water into the tray. The water will evaporate into the air over time. Remember to keep topping it up when the water level gets low.
All plants need a good feed in summertime: this is when growth is most active and the nutrients are well-received. I recommend using a well-diluted liquid feed once a month throughout the growing season. Using a high nitrogen or seaweed feed will give nutrients for your plant’s green, foliage growth. When your plant is dormant, from late autumn through to winter, you don’t need to give your plant extra fertilizer.
I really like the natural shape of this specimen plant, and because of this, I try not to prune it too much. Instead, try to find a space large enough to house a mature specimen, before investing.
If you’d like to prune your Pachira aquatica, do so in the springtime. Always cut just above a leaf axis, and ensure you prune evenly on each side of your foliage canopy. Too much irregular pruning will cause you to lose the plant’s natural shape, which in my opinion, is one of its great pleasures.
Stem cuttings are the easiest way to propagate this plant. Below are some easy instructions:
- Firstly, find a 5- to 7-inch-long stem tip with at least one node, and only one or two sets of leaves
- Take your snips and remove your cuttings
- Place your cuttings in water for a minute or two
- Remove the cuttings from the water, shaking off any excess
- Dip them into Hormone Rooting Powder
- Fill small pots with suitable compost, water lightly, and place a cutting in each pot
- Ideal temperatures for propagation are between 75 – 80 F/24 – 27 C
- It can take as long as 6 weeks for any new cutting to start producing new growth
- Be patient, and water lightly
Possible Plant Problems
There are a few common pests that are quite partial to the Pachira aquatica: Mealybugs, Scale Insects, Aphids and Red Spider Mites. All of these pesky pests can interfere with healthy growth of your plant, so try to keep a watch out for any infestation and catch it quickly.
Find spray-on pesticides and insecticides for these common houseplant pests at your local garden center. Ensure that your spray is suitable for the pest being dealt with. Try “SB Plant Invigorator” spray, which not only controls insect infestations, but also fungal diseases such as powdery mildew—another common plant ailment.
Over-watering leads to root rot and in time, further diseases and eventually, plant death. Be careful not to overwater your plant, allowing any excess moisture to drain away.
Here are a few common ailments your Pachira aquatica may suffer:
- Yellow leaves: caused by too much direct sunlight (Move to an indirect light spot)
- Brown Leaf tips/edges: your plant needs more humidity (Misting and pebble tray)
- Lots of growth but sparse leaf growth: too dark-a-site (Move to a lighter spot)
- Brown or black spots on the leaves: typical potassium deficiency (Use high-potassium feed)
Companion Plants for Pachira Aquatica
Well, this is the question!
My favourite “high-light” plants include the tall and sturdy Areca Palm and the small and woodier Pony-tail Palm. The latter has a short, swollen trunk topped with ribbons of foliage. Ficus benjamina is another great- looking, light-loving foliage plant that is highly popular and available in a large number of growth forms.
Two really interesting succulent plants just perfect for a light environment are the Crassula ovata (Jade Plant) and Senecio rowleyanus (String of Beads).
Alternatively, why not start your own plant collection? The Pachira aquatica is a true tropical pleasure and a great place to start any houseplant arragement.