Money Tree Care Guide
Also known as the Guiana chestnut and water chestnut, Pachira aquatica is a legendary tropic native to swamps in South and Central America. Japan has long embraced this plant as an ornamental, however the "luck" aspect is rooted in many contemporary legends.
One tells of a poor farmer who found an unusual plant in his fields. He dug it up and took it home, and came to notice that it persevered despite little care or expertise on his part. The farmer decided to take a lesson from the little plant and persevere no matter what, leading to him building a life of prosperity.
Whatever the truth about this popular tree, it has certainly soared to popularity over the past few decades.
The Money Tree often comes in groups of five, sometimes braided together. This number takes its origins from the Asian concept of feng shui, which is a theory of environmental harmony rooted in the five elements: wood, metal, water, fire, and earth. These are symbolized in the three leaves that grow on each branch, as well as the five chambers of the seed pod. In its natural habitat Pachira may grow to 40 feet tall.
The leaves of this unique specimen are palmate, bright green, and appear in groups of five (occasionally seven) on each branch. The trunk is grayish to green on the growth end, slim, and smooth. Full size trees produce edible nuts that are utilized in several ways, cooked and raw.
This tropical thrives best if it is exposed to both sun and shade. If the Money Tree is kept as an outdoor plant, it should be brought inside when the weather gets colder than 50° Fahrenheit. The ideal living arrangement is to leave it outside in the warmer months and bring it inside during the fall and winter.
Despite being native to swampland P. aquatica is very tolerant of under-watering. You can allow the soil to become somewhat dry, then add just enough water so that the soil becomes damp. Yellow, droopy leaves indicate an overwatered plant, and curling leaves mean it's being under-watered. Misting or a humidity tray are both good choices for this bonsai.
This species is not a heavy feeder, and can be given a good, balanced time-release fertilizer about twice a year.
This lucky tree usually comes as a group of trees braided or twisted together. If you purchase yours this way, then you must maintain the design as the tree continues to grow. You can wrap twine around the top of the trunks to hold them together tightly.
If you are cultivating your own from, for example, a cutting, you will want to guide the braid or twist as the trees grow, holding them in place with yarn or twine. It's important to remember to remove new shoots that grow along the base, as these might interfere with the continuation of the weaving if allowed to get too large and lignified. Trim the foliage evenly among the top of the trees so that one tree doesn't get more stressed than the rest.
Money Trees may be reproduced through air layering, seeds, or cuttings, with cuttings likely the most common method. Take a two or three inch length of cane – a leafless branch – from a healthy, mature tree. Dry the cutting at room temperature for a day, apply rooting hormone and plant in one part sand, one part peat. Cover the cutting with a dome made of half a milk jug or a clear plastic container. Place in a bright, warm location and keep the planting medium moist but not soaked. After a week or two check for roots; once they exceed one inch the bonsai may be transplanted to a larger container.
This may be carried out every 2-3 years. Do not root prune too aggressively – one fourth of the root mass is plenty to remove. Concentrate on discolored or otherwise unhealthy looking roots. Transplant into a well-draining soil containing perlite or peat.
Insects/Pests & Diseases
This is a hardy species, however all bonsai can be vulnerable to certain pests and diseases. Scale may appear as small brown or black lumps on the foliage. These must be removed or treated with rubbing alcohol, and then the eggs that were sheltered under the protective shells must be wiped or washed away.
P. Aquatica may also show signs of leaf spot. This typically shows up in the spring and look like black discolored spots on leaves. Fungicide may be used if this condition becomes a problem.
Powdery mildew is another fungus, but unlike most, it is white in color and eventually turns to a powdery coating on the leaves. This condition usually results from debris building up at the base of the tree, harboring the fungus and passing it up to the foliage. Clear away any debris, then clean the foliage with a fungicidal soap.