Money trees are plants of the Pachira genus, but there are two similar species sold with braided trunks. Both Pachira aquatica and P. glabra are very similar but have slightly different requirements in cultivation. Money trees are sold as bonsais with five plants in a pot with their trunks braided together. They are believed to bring good luck to a home or place of business and are now widely used in fung shui design. The pachira money trees should not be confused with the money plant Crassula ovata, also known as the jade plant.
In the wild both Pachira species are large trees that reach 60 feet in height. They have smooth trunks that remain green even when the trees are mature. The shiny compound or palmate leaves have five lance-shaped leaflets, each about 10 inches long. Money tree flowers are attractive with long, silky stamens and white petals. P. aquatica has reddish stamens while P. glabra has all white flowers, although neither is likely to flower if grown in pots. The brown fruits are 8 inches long and contain up to 25 nut-like, edible seeds 2 inches across. It is difficult to distinguish between the two species without seeing the flowers, but P. aquatica has leaf veins growing out horizontally from the midrib and more rounded leaf tips, while P. glabra has angled leaf veins and pointed leaves.
Both species are from tropical Central and South America from Mexico down to Brazil. They are grown as large trees in both Hawaii and southern California.
P. aquatica grows in swamps and wetlands as well as estuaries and can grow in areas where its roots are submerged for long periods. P. glabra grows in lowland tropical forests and plains where it is rarely subjected to flooding.
Most money trees come as bonsai pot plants and should be treated like other bonsais. They require well drained soil, frequent watering and bright but indirect light. P. aquatica will tolerate water logging and even thrive with its roots permanently in water, while P. glabra needs better drainage and less water. With the two species being so similar, finding the best conditions for your plant is often a case of trial and error. If the leaves on your plant develop brown edges, then increase the frequency of watering. If the leaves turn yellow, then reduce the frequency of watering. It is best to err on the side of under watering at first, as both species can suffer from root and stem rot if over watered. Water your money tree when the surface of the soil is dry. Both species will tolerate temperatures down to 28 degrees F for short periods but are best treated as frost-tender plants.
Money trees are low maintenance houseplants and are often used in offices and homes as feature pot plants. They can be kept outdoors during the warmer months and even planted in the garden in USDA Zones 9 and above. In fung shui philosophy, the five leaflets and five braided trunks are said to represent the five elements: wood, water, earth, fire and metal. A money tree should be placed in the north west corner of a home or office to encourage prosperity.