With large palmate leaves giving off a tropical vibe combined with a cleverly braided trunk, the money tree is more than just a symbol of prosperity. It’s a beautiful (and quite popular) houseplant. Additionally, it is known to be one of the easiest indoor trees. Here is some important background on this amazing plant along with a detailed description of how to keep your money tree plant thriving.
What Is a Money Tree Plant?
The money tree plant is a member of the mallow family Malvaceae that goes by the botanical name of Pachira aquatica. This tropical plant grows as a tree in its native habitats in Central and South America.
Generally, most will recognize this plant as a “money tree,” but it goes by many other common names including Malabar chestnut, Guiana chestnut, French peanut, Saba nut, and Monguba. The Latin genus Pachira is derived from a language spoken in Guyana, and the species name aquatica translates to ‘aquatic,’ referencing the plant’s propensity to grow in wetland ecosystems. Commercially, P. aquatica is cultivated as a houseplant, oftentimes using bonsai practices to train its growth.
Money Tree Characteristics
Most often seen as a houseplant, it may be surprising to learn the more natural growth habits of the money tree. In its native habitats, it often reaches heights of 60 feet. But whether it’s in a swamp or in your living room, the leaves look the same. Each of its green leaves is palmately compound, meaning the leaflets extend from a central point like fingers from a hand. The 5-9 leaflets are elliptical and come to a sharp point at the ends. Additionally, as with many tropical broadleaf plants, the money tree plant is an evergreen, meaning that it keeps its beautiful foliage year-round.
The flowers are quite a spectacle too. Slim, long, light yellow petals frame a firework of the stamen that explode from the center. Each stamen has a red-tip, and with there are over 200 of them, they provide quite the spectacle.
As a houseplant, money trees often look slightly different than they do in the wild. For starters, they usually don’t grow much more than 6-8 feet tall and are often kept much smaller as a bonsai. Additionally, their stems are often braided together to have almost a fairy tale look, but you can purchase plants that haven’t been braided.
Native Range & Origins
The money tree plant is native to tropical regions in Mexico, Central America, and South America. Though its range is expansive, it is known as an estuarine species, so it will more commonly be found in watery habitats. Habitats such as estuaries, freshwater swamps, and riparian areas are the most common places to find money trees in their native range.
With their increasing popularity, money trees are commonly grown outside of their native range. The tropical climates in Taiwan, Hawaii, and southern California suit P. aquatica well and have become hotspots for cultivation.
While P. aquatica has a long list of common names, ‘money tree’ has become the most common. But surprisingly, the history of that name isn’t very extensive, with legends around the money tree surfacing in the 1980s. As the story goes, a man who was going through a challenging time discovered the money tree. He found he could propagate more trees from its seeds and began to cultivate and sell saplings. He created a business around the trees and his life turned around for the better.
Since more commercialized cultivation began and this story circulated, the money tree has become important to feng shui practices. The art of feng shui attempts to harmonize people with their environments, often incorporating houseplants. The money tree symbolizes good luck, good fortune, and positive energy. Additionally, each leaf of the money tree often has five leaflets, which correspond to the five elements in Chinese Wu Xing theory, representing earth, water, metal, fire, and wood.
Money Tree Plant Care
While the money tree plant can be grown outdoors, its preference for tropical climates limits the areas that it can survive. In fact, P. aquatica should only be grown outside in the USDA hardiness zones 10-12 which includes parts of Florida, southern Texas, southern California, and Hawaii. Consequently, it is most often grown as a low-maintenance indoor plant, given its sensitivity to the cold. Here are detailed care instructions that can help keep your money plant happy and healthy.
With a native habitat defined by the presence of water, it makes sense that money trees like to be kept moist. It should be a top priority to keep your plant well-watered! The best practice is to water the soil until it is very well saturated. Then, wait to water again until the substrate dries out and leaves the soil dry. This time period will depend on your area’s climate, so pay close attention in the first few weeks of caring for your money tree. Once you familiarize yourself with the pattern, you can establish a watering routine.
Additionally, money trees’ native climates have high humidity. Money plants will benefit from consistent mistings. A spray bottle with an adjustable nozzle would do the trick. But if you have a few tropical plants, you might consider investing in a humidifier, or look into a pebble tray, to keep them thriving! Again, this does depend on the climate of your area.
Light & Climate
Because money trees are only winter hardy to USDA zones 10-12, they should be grown inside in most parts of the United States. They can tolerate direct sunlight and even shade, but they will do best in bright, indirect light. Find a nice sunny room for them, ideally with a south-facing window!
Once you’ve found a spot for them in your home, try to limit moving the pot too often. Money trees are known to be sensitive to big movements and disruptions. However, it is a good idea to rotate the pot occasionally to promote even growth and leafing.
Money trees need well-draining soil even though they like moisture. Before you pot your tree, sprinkle a few rocks or some gravel in the bottom of the pot to promote drainage. Then, use a loose, permeable potting soil mix. You can add perlite, peat moss, or sand to the potting mix for the best results.
To meet the nutrition needs of your money tree, it’s a good idea to use fertilizer during the plant’s growth period. A liquid fertilizer makes a great choice because the plant can absorb the nutrients more quickly and efficiently. While your plant will benefit from this extra plant food, it can become too lanky if over-fertilized. The best practice is to fertilize every two weeks from May until September.
Tending To a Growing Plant: Repotting, Pruning, & Cutting
As your money plant grows, you can give it a little extra care throughout the seasons to ensure it thrives for many years. Repotting and pruning provide ways to control and encourage growth. As a bonus, you can take some of the cuttings from the plant to propagate new individuals!
Money trees usually need to be repotted every three years. When repotting, choose pots with good drainage holes and keep the bottom lined with rocks or gravel. While you can trim back some root growth, take care to not cut off more than 25% of the roots. The best time to repot is during the early spring.
Pruning is a great way to encourage a certain shape to your money tree and promote new growth. You can prune back wilted or brown leaves and drooping branches, and new leaves and branches will quickly grow in their place. With intentional planning, you can control the shape of your tree. Many bonsai artists train money trees through careful methods of pruning and using wires. While you can do some light trimming throughout the year, the best time for a pruning session is in late winter.
How To Take Cuttings
Want to carry on the traditions of money tree lore? Propagating more plants using cuttings is relatively simple, and you will soon find yourself in a money tree forest! Though you can harvest and germinate the seeds, cuttings are the most common way to breed money trees. Trim a branch in late spring or early summer. Next, pop the branch in a glass of water to initiate root growth. Once it has grown a few roots, gently plant it in soil. You can skip the water glass step, but it often takes much longer if you just pop the trimmings in the soil.
Care Challenges and Common Problems
In general, money trees are a very resilient house plant or bonsai. Pests and disease are rarely issues. However, if something does show up, here is a list of potential issues and solutions.
- Yellow leaves: If the leaves start to color, this is often caused by low humidity or poor nutrition. Reflect on your environment – does your money tree get consistent mistings and have you provided fertilizer during the growth period? Try increasing the humidity or fertilization, and see if the leaves regain their color.
- Leaf spots: A specific type of coloration is leaf spots. Brown or yellow leaf spots usually indicate a potassium deficiency. Potassium helps the plant move water throughout and instigate photosynthesis. If this appears, double-check your fertilizing routine to ensure the nutrition package includes this vital nutrient.
- Root rot: If you notice the roots are black and mushy when you repot your money tree, this is an indicator of root rot. Caused by too much moisture or overwatering, repot the plant in more permeable soil, and make sure to add rocks or gravel at the bottom!
- Mold on soil: Moldy soil is also an indicator of too much moisture. Try to cut back on watering and mistings or repot with the well-draining substrate.
- Aphids: Appearing in different colors, aphids can be red, green, yellow, or brown. Whichever the color, they are usually pretty easy to spot. Spray a solution of dish soap and warm water onto the leaves, then wipe and rinse the leaves with clean water.
- Mealybugs: Another more common pest for the money tree, mealybugs are quite conspicuous with white fuzzy wax layers they produce. Again, the best way to get rid of them is to wash the leaves with mildly soapy water then wipe them off.
- Spider Mites: Quite tiny, you will likely only notice the damage from spider mites as the leaves dull, curl, and drop off. The first step if your plant gets spider mites is to completely rinse it off in the shower or hose. This is a time when you should move your money plant! Then use an insecticidal soap or neem oil to get rid of the mites. Often it will take more than one application.
- Scale: Camouflage as growths on the plant, scale insects can be difficult to notice. If your money tree does get an infestation of scale, use a solution of water and insecticidal soap to combat. Spray on each day for a few days until the problem stops.
A Beautiful Tree
From finding the perfect spot to sit your money tree to developing a consistent and healthy watering regime, you are ready to care for your new houseplant! Let this tropical beauty brighten up your home, and be sure to check back here if you have any issues.