About Lucky Money Trees

Overview

Often seen as a braided plant in a small pot to grace an interior table, the lucky money tree (Pachira aquatica) becomes a massive, ornamental tree in tropical regions. Tolerant of low light and over-watering as a house plant, it is difficult to kill, making it a nice exotic oddity. Even if you prune the house plant back, it will rejuvenate.

Origins

Lucky money trees, also called Guiana chestnuts or water chestnuts, hail from the rich riverbanks along the tropical coasts of Tropical America from Mexico to northern South America as far east as Trinidad.

Ornamental Features

While growers of the tiny braided lucky money plants in their homes may never see them grow into picturesque trees, lucky money trees grow up to 65 feet tall and develop large flaring and buttressing trunks in order to stabilize themselves on the soft muddy riverbank soils. The leaves posses a lustrous jade green color with long stem petioles that support five to nine oval leaflets. In spring and summer, mature trees bear night-fragrant flowers that resemble red and cream colored shaving brushes. Afterwards they develop into football-sized capsules with a velvety brown skin. Split the capsule open to reveal many edible chestnut-like seeds. These seeds float in water for months, not germinating until finally reaching a muddy shore.

Cultural Requirements

Best grown in frost-free tropical regions, USDA Hardiness Zones 10 and warmer, give lucky money tree a full sun exposure in a fertile, moist soil rich in organic matter. Fast growing, it may be grown from seed, cuttings of young branches or by layering branches onto wet, warm soil where they take root. Provide ample moisture year round, perhaps slightly less in the winter months when sunlight intensity wanes. Indoors as a house plant, keeping it in a bright, indirect light exposure just out of the reach of direct sun rays proves best, especially since you do not want it to grow quickly to become too large. Keep the potting soil evenly moist in a warm, draft-free location.

Economic Uses

Besides being sold as a house plant in temperate climate regions, lucky money tree provides traditional medicinal properties. In Guatemala the skin of the green immature fruits treat hepatitis and is also used as an anaesthetic, according to Margaret Barwick in "Tropical and Subtropical Trees". The bark yields a yellow dye useful to tint sails and mark fishing nets.

Foodstuffs

Young emergent leaves work well as a fresh vegetable and honeybees develop honey from the copious nectar from the large blossoms. The seed capsule's core comprises large starchy seeds ("water chestnuts") nestled in fleshy and fibrous white pulp. The seeds roast well and may be eaten like roasted nuts or ground into flour.

Keywords: Pachira aquatica, water chestnut, braided house plant, Guiana chestnut

About this Author

James Burghardt has written for "The Public Garden," "Docent Educator," non-profit newsletters and for horticultural databases, becoming a full-time writer in 2008. He holds a Master of Science in public horticulture from the University of Delaware and studied horticulture and biology in Australia at Murdoch University and the University of Melbourne.