The money tree or Guiana chestnut is more formally called Pachira aquatica. Although its potted form is the most familiar version, this plant can grow into a tall and robust tree of around 60 feet in the wild. The money tree's compound leaves represent the five elements of wood, water, fire, metal and earth. Finding a 6- or 7-leaf cluster among them is a sign of outstanding luck, according to feng shui practitioners.
Legend has it that a poor farmer in a small valley community in Taiwan discovered a Pachira tree growing in his field one day. He was a hard-working farmer, but his labors yielded minimal returns. He realized that it was an unusual plant. The farmer took the plant home to study it, thinking to himself that perhaps this was the answer to his prayers for prosperity. He quickly learned that the plant required very little attention, being hardy and tolerant of low light and dry conditions. He cultivated several plants from seeds, and took them to the local marketplace. They sold immediately, and people clamored for more. The elated farmer called his prize plant the "good luck money tree" or "good fortune tree," and this common name resonates worldwide now.
The Real Story
According to the Aris b.v. nursery website, Taiwanese agricultural engineers first encountered the wild Pachira tree growing in the mountains of Mexico in 1964. Their initial thought was to explore the potential of the Pachira as a fruit tree. They took seeds to Taiwan and planted them in the mountains, but the fruits could not sustain industrial production. The number of trees, though, multiplied dramatically.
A Star Is Born
In the early 1980s, a gentleman surnamed Liu created the potted plant variety of the Pachira aquatica. It was a big hit, first in Taiwan, and subsequently in Japan. Around this time period, the practice of braiding the stems grew popular. After experimentation with braiding between 4 and 7 stems together, the 5-stem variety became the norm.
By the late 1980s, the Pachira money tree was also a star in Korea, the United States and Europe. In the United States, efforts to cultivate the plant's natural flowers enjoyed little success because they are night blooming flowers that last just that single night.
21st Century Symbol of Prosperity
These days, the money tree is a popular gift for special occasions like grand openings of businesses or as a housewarming gift, to symbolize good wishes for success and prosperity. Feng shui practitioners advise that placing a Pachira money tree in the south-eastern sector of a room, residence or office is for the purpose of attracting wealth luck. An easterly placement aims to benefit family harmony, health, scholarship and projects, according to the White Lotus Feng Shui website. This plant should not sit in a bedroom or bathroom though, but preferably in living or dining areas or offices.