Money Tree

Pachira aquatica by any other name would be as lucky. This short tree often shows up with five trunks braided together. Large, palmate leaves spread out from the top. Sometimes, they fall off for seemingly no reason. Still, this little tree keeps chugging along, adapting to fluorescent lights and settling happily into whatever pot it’s in.

I picked up a money tree a couple years ago. It came in a cramped plastic pot, and was just begging for a new home. A few months after moving the little tree into its new pot, one of the braided stems developed a sort of fungus. It began to sink in at the base, just above the height of the soil. The top of the dirt started to develop odd white patches.

I later figured out that I was keeping the plant too moist. At the same time, because it was an indoors plant and I didn’t want the overflow of water to drain onto the wood floor, I only watered it in tiny amounts. The soil stayed moist, but was never really watered properly. I didn’t flush the pot with water, so I never washed out any of the built up salts (both from the tap water and the fertilizer). When I finally took the plant outside to really rinse the pot, it reacted quite negatively. It probably didn’t help that I took it out into direct sunlight on a fairly cold day. Maybe 8 or 10 leaves fell within two days. The remaining leaves, however, were the healthiest and most vibrant green I had seen on the tree since I got it.

For many months after this, my tree would grow wonderfully vibrant leaves… most of the time. Every so often, an undersized and wrinkled leaf would pop up. Usually, these stunted leaves would actually survive just as long as a normal leaf. Other leaves would sometimes show up with some patchy tan and brown along the perimeter, or hard dry spots peppered through the interior. Every so often, a perfectly happy leaf would turn fully yellow and fall off. It’s taken a long time to figure out all the issues – first I watered too much, then not enough. There was a tiny draft blowing from a window frame, so the plant had to be moved about 3 feet (and the frame fixed). Then it was the different angle of light coming in through the blinds, causing sunburns.

Since then, the money tree has found a stable home and a watering schedule. I’ve learned to calm down when it throws a fit and drops some leaves. This plant is sometimes a bit of a diva when something’s not perfect, but it settles into indoor living conditions quite nicely.


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Characteristics

You’ll commonly see these with braided trunks, typically five together (for good luck). Sometimes only one stem will be alive, sometimes all of them. They have broad palmate leaves (leaves that spread out, like fingers from the palm) that grow from the top of the tree.

In the wild, this tree does not look like it does in your pot. It often grows in swampy conditions up to heights of 60 feet, and doesn’t grow with braided trunks. Instead, it produces large flowers, which are pollinated by bats. These flowers produce fruit; a foot-long football that tastes like peanuts and is known as a Guiana chestnut.

Origin

Central and South America

Care

Water

Water deeply but infrequently. Let the top 2-4″ of soil dry out between waterings. Water until water is flowing out of the drainage holes on bottom. If you have a catchpan, make sure to empty it – don’t leave the plant sitting in water. It will require less water in winter when it hibernates.

The plant likes high humidity (50% or more). If you have a drier living space, you can mist the leaves from time to time. Alternatively, grow it in your bathroom (if you take steamy showers), or place the pot on some pebbles in a water-filled tray.

Please remember to occasionally give the leaves a shower, or wipe them down with a damp cloth. This removes the dust that builds up on the leaves and blocks the pores.

Light

Medium to bright indirect light. May even learn to love fluorescent lights. This plant is well-adapted to relatively low light, which is why it makes a great houseplant. While it can be grown in strong sunlight, the plant will need to be introduced slowly to protect against sunburns.

Turn the plant every time you water it to ensure even leaf development.

Temperature

Most comfortable at room temperature or slightly warmer. 65-80 F (18-27 C) for the happiest plant. Can survive hardiness zones 10-12 outdoors.

Sudden swings in temperature – such as by placing the plant near a heater or a draft – can lead to some unhappy leaf loss. Ensure your plant has relatively stable living conditions, and try to keep the tree from getting cold.

Fertilizer

Fertilize once or twice a year, in spring and summer. Water soluble fertilizers work well. Make sure to get the soil damp before applying fertilizer, to help it spread and prevent pooling. No fertilizer is necessary in winter, when growth slows.

Over-fertilizing may cause the plant to gain height without filling in its leaf crown.


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The Dirt

Soil

Sandy and loamy soil with good drainage. As much as this plant likes humidity, it dislikes water-logged soil. Regular potting soil works well too, though you may have to amend the soil with sand, or add small rocks at the bottom to help with drainage.

Root & Pot

This plant doesn’t like to be repotted. It’ll adapt quite happily to the pot that it is in. Some people recommend repotting it every 2 years, though I haven’t done so.

Soggy soil is one of the most common reasons this plant dies. Try not to overpot the plant, giving it too much room to deal with.

Size & Speed

In the wild, these trees can grow upwards of 60 feet. Luckily, hanging out in pots indoors, they don’t manage to get to this height. Instead, indoors plants tend to stay below 6 or 8 feet in height. Mine is a stout 4 feet tall, but acts like it’s 8 feet tall.

Browning leaves and petioles are often quite easy to remove. If a small amount of downward pressure near the joint causes the leaf or petiole to pop off, then it is ready to be removed. There often isn’t a need to use actual shears.

The best time for serious pruning is in the spring, before the bulk of the growing season gets underway.

Later Life

Propagation

The plant is most commonly propagated by cuttings. Cut off the end of a stem with at least two leaf nodes, about 10 – 15 centimeters in length. Dip the cut in some rooting hormone. Place the cutting in regular potting soil and mist the soil to keep it damp. Roots should start to be hearty in about 4 weeks. Be careful when first transplanting the cutting, as the roots will be very delicate.

Alternatively, you can place the cutting in water to develop roots before it goes into the dirt. Make sure the cutting is in at least a few centimeters of water. Place the cutting in a sunny and warm spot. Rooting in water tends to give quicker results than soil.

You can also grow this tree from seed, which is a simpler and slower process. Soak new seeds in water for 24 hours before putting them in soil. Cover the seeds with 1 cm of dirt, and water evenly through the whole germination process. Eventually, you will have a little seedling that’s ready to transplant.

Flower & Fruit

Capable of producing a fruit with 5 sections, which bursts when the seeds have swollen enough. The flowers are large and open like banana peels. It typically will not produce flowers when growing indoors… which is lucky, as the flowers are pollinated by bats.

Edibility

Roasted nuts are supposed to taste like chestnut and can be ground into flour.

Problems

Pests & Diseases

Spider mites, mealybugs, and scale can attack a stressed plant.

Trouble Signs

If leaves stay greenish and drop off, you may be overwatering your plant. Space your waterings out wider and water deeply each time. An inconsistent watering schedule, or going from bone-dry to hydrated may also stress the plant.

If your leaves turn brown on the edges, then slowly yellow and dry, then fall off – you may need a boost in humidity or watering. Mist your leaves more frequently, and potentially increase the frequency of your watering.

Yellowing leaves may also be natural. Older leaves may drop off as the plant produces new leaves.

Exposure to too many drafts may cause leaf loss. Heater vents and hot, dry air also need to be avoided.

This plant can also get a sunburn, which will cause it to lose leaves.

I know this plant sounds like it’s a lot of trouble, but it works out to a very simple life – don’t stick it directly in sunlight, and remember to water it every couple of weeks. Spray some mist at it from time to time. Over the years, I’ve had dozens of leaves drop and dozens more grow to replace them. The plant is very hardy, no matter how much it complains.

Other Notes

Generally non-toxic, though it may cause stomach upset in cats.

The seeds have cyclopropenoid fatty acids, which some argue is potentially harmful to animals or people.


Thanks for stopping by! I hope you had a pleasant time checking out the plants. If you’re in the mood for more nature, please stay in touch!

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