A Short and Simple Guide to Money Trees

I grew up surrounded by money trees, spotting them not only during my rare trips to big-box nurseries but also in Asian homes and supermarkets. According to feng shui, they’re supposed to be lucky and bring about prosperity. Now, I’m not sure if mine has given me any luck, but it hasn’t died on me and continues to sprout leaves nonstop! I keep my money tree (or pachira aquatica, as it’s formally called) around not necessarily because it’s lucky but because it brings such understated beauty to my space. The braided stems and slightly ridged, petal-shaped leaves add an effortless elegance.

While by no means the rarest plant you can add to your green collection, the money tree is easy-going and beautiful in equal measures. Here’s everything that you need to know to keep it a happy home companion!

Identifying a Money Tree

The money tree has a woody main trunk and petal-shaped leaves that branch out in clusters of five or so. It’s often sold braided, nurseries binding plants together when young stems are green and not too thick yet. (It’s supposed to be luckier this way! And it’s also aesthetically interesting.) Often kept as bonsai, houseplants can grow up between 6 to 8 feet, but plants in nature can grow up to 60 feet. In its natural habitat, a money tree can flower and produce round, edible fruits that taste like chestnuts when roasted. The leaves and flowers can be cooked as vegetables as well. 

Money tree braided stems and trunk
My braided money tree! There’s also a greenish growth on the trunk — can anyone identify it?

Putting the Money Tree in its Cultural Context

Pachira aquatica goes by other names such as water chestnut, Guiana chestnut, and money tree. It’s native to freshwater swamps, estuaries, and river banks in tropical rainforests from Mexico and other parts of South America. Its genus name comes from its native Guyanese name. Its common name, aka money tree, comes from the tale of a man who discovered this tree and acquired wealth after selling its seeds. And according to feng shui, money trees are supposed to bring good luck to the home and office. So stock up!

Caring For Your Money Tree

As an indoor plant, the pachira aquatica prefers bright indirect light. You can rotate it by a quarter turn weekly to avoid legginess. During the growing season, feed it with fertilizer every two weeks diluted at half strength. Keep your plant away from spots that are too hot or too cold, staying between 50 to 90 degrees. While the money tree plant enjoys a good dose of water and humidity, only water when the top few inches are dry. The money tree doesn’t need to be repotted very often — you can give it a bigger home every two years or when its roots start poking out of its pot. Pruning your plant is great for getting it to grow thicker and bushier, and it’s also how you can try out bonsai and propagation. 

Money tree leaves
Lush green leaves on my money tree. I’ve had the occasional leaf drop during the winter as well as during the summer when the sunlight I get is rather harsh.

Troubleshooting Your Money Tree Problems

The money tree plant is a relatively low maintenance plant, but you may come across the occasional bump in the road while tending for it. Here are a few issues — as well as the solutions you can test out:

  • Yellow leaves: Yellow leaves often indicate a lack of humidity or fertilizer. Besides adding fertilizer, you can also keep your pot in a tray of wet pebbles to amp up the humidity (or, you know, use a humidifier). Yellow leaves may also mean that your plant is getting too much direct sunlight. Put it in a spot where it will get indirect light!
  • Root rot: You may have root rot if you see leaf drop, soft stems, or moldy soil. Cut back on watering and repot if necessary. 
  • Pests: Two common pests for money trees are fungus gnats and scale. For the former, leave sticky traps in your soil, or cover the top layer of soil with sand or pebbles. As for scale, spray your plant down with water and treat it with neem oil. 


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