No, the money tree, or Pachira aquatica, is not a succulent. It is a tropical wetland tree native to the swamps of Central and South America.
It is commonly grown as a houseplant in the United States, where its stems are often braided together for a unique decor effect.
The fact that it is low-maintenance adds to the plant’s popularity; it is easy to care for and requires very little attention.
In this article, we discuss what makes the money tree different from a succulent. So, if you want to learn more about this plant before adding it to your collection, just keep reading.
Why is it called a money tree?
There are different theories and stories as to how Pachira aquatica got its common name: the money tree.
Some people say there was an unfortunate farmer who badly needed money and prayed to the gods for help. He saw this plant growing in his fields and took it home with him, whereupon he then experienced great fortune.
This story may or may not be true, but this reputation as a source of good luck has persisted for decades and even centuries.
This plant is native to countries in Central and South America, and gained worldwide popularity in the 1980s.
A man from Taiwan apparently decided to try braiding the plant’s trunks in the belief that it would bring good fortune to whoever it was gifted to. Taiwan has since turned the export of money trees into a million-dollar industry. The older the money tree, the more expensive it is.
The process of braiding the trunks can be a bit complicated and needs to be done while the plant is still young and flexible. Once the trunks have been braided successfully, they will continue to grow in this manner.
The plant has even found its way into the practice of feng shui. Experts suggest placing it in a particular spot in one’s home so that the chi, or energy, flows well through the room. For the same reason, they are often placed in offices and workplaces as well.
In Japanese culture, money trees are adorned with ribbons and ornaments that are typically red, because red symbolizes prosperity and also makes a great contrast against the lush green color of the plant’s leaves.
Is a money tree a succulent?
No, the money tree, or Pachira aquatica, is a tropical wetland tree native to the swamps of Central and South America. It does not need as much light as succulents do, and because it grows in the swamps, it can thrive in plenty of water, whereas a succulent is quite sensitive to excess water. The money tree belongs to the Malcaceae family, which consists of flowering plants.
How to plant the money tree
Because the money tree is a low-maintenance plant, it does not require much to survive and thrive. You just need to provide its basic soil, humidity, temperature and water requirements to keep the plant happy.
The money tree can only survive outdoors in hardiness zones 10 to 12, which means it cannot stand outdoor temperatures lower than 45 degrees Fahrenheit for extended periods of time. The ideal temperature for the plant is between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. If you live in a hardiness zone 9 or lower, you are better off growing your money tree indoors year-round.
If you keep the plant indoors, the perfect spot for it is one that is a bit humid and gets bright, indirect light.
If you plant the money tree outdoors, be prepared for it to become a full-sized tree that might need a bit of space to grow. If you want the plant to grow at its best, try to simulate the growing conditions of its natural habitat, the swamps. If you have a stream or a river on your property, planting the money tree near that is the way to go.
Your chosen planting site should also be away from strong winds.
Money trees can be grown from either seeds or cuttings. If you are growing from seed, plant the seed a quarter-inch deep in moist soil.
Money tree care requirements
Water and humidity requirements
Even though the money tree’s natural habitat is swamps, that does not mean you can just water it every day without checking the soil’s moisture levels. This plant is still susceptible to overwatering if you are not careful.
Yes, this plant grows in places where lots of water can accumulate in the soil around its roots, but the soil in its natural habitat also dries out periodically, allowing the roots to dry out as well. The correct way to water the money tree is to mimic this. Give the plant lots of water so that all of the soil is soaked and the roots get their fair share, but then let the soil dry out before even considering watering it again.
In an indoor setting where the conditions are more controlled, you might only need to water the plant three times a month, at most. But, if you live in a place where the humidity is low, the soil in the pot will dry out faster and you might need to water it more frequently.
If your money tree is outside, you will know when it needs watering by touching the soil around the plant’s roots. If the top three inches of soil are dry to the touch, water the plant, but if the soil is still a bit damp, wait one or two days before checking again.
When it comes to humidity, remember that the plant is native to the tropics so it appreciates a bit of humidity. If the air is dry indoors where you keep the plant, you might need to invest in a good humidifier to regulate the humidity around it.
If you do not have space in your budget to buy a humidifier, you can also use a water pebble tray. Place the pot on top of this tray so that, as the water evaporates from the tray, it will moisten the soil in the pot as well as the plant’s leaves.
If you overwater your money tree, its leaves will turn yellow or brown, droop, and possibly even drop off. If this happens, stop watering the plant immediately and let the soil dry out completely. You can also place the plant in a sunnier spot so that the light and heat can help the soil dry out faster.
If you have been overwatering the plant for weeks or even months, you might need to check the roots for rot.
Root rot is a condition caused by prolonged exposure of the roots to waterlogged soil. If the roots are unable to dry out between waterings, they will drown and die. The dead roots will start to rot and become susceptible to opportunistic pathogens in the soil. These pathogens will make the rot more aggressive and cause it to spread faster to the rest of the plant, until eventually the entire plant is affected, including the stems and leaves, and might even die.
If you suspect root rot, you will need to check the plant’s roots. Remove it from the pot and wash off as much soil as you can from the roots. Be gentle as you do this because the roots will be fragile in this state.
Inspect all the roots and check for parts that have turned brown or black. These are rotten and need to be pruned off using a sterile knife or pair of scissors until only the healthy, white roots remain.
Then, lay the plant on dry paper towels and let the roots air-dry for several hours.
Choose a new pot that has drainage holes at the bottom and fill it with well-draining potting soil. Place the plant in the middle of the pot and cover the roots with more soil.
Place the plant in a spot with a bit of humidity and where it can get plenty of bright, indirect light.
Light and temperature requirements
As mentioned above, this plant prefers bright, indirect light, so if you are growing it outdoors, place it under the shade of a larger tree or near a structure that will provide it with some shade. This does not mean you should keep it in low-light conditions, as this can lead to the leaves turning pale and the stems becoming leggy, due to a condition called etiolation.
Finding the perfect balance of light will also prevent sun damage on the plant. If the foliage gets too much sun, it will burn, turn brown and fall off the plant. The bigger and more mature the plant becomes, the more tolerant of heat and light it will be.
If you are keeping the plant indoors, make sure that it is not placed near a window that lets in too much light. If the only window in your home lets in harsh light, you can diffuse the light by placing a sheer curtain over the window. Turn the plant every week so that all sides of it get their time in the light. This practice also keeps the plant symmetrical and will lessen the chances of etiolation.
When it comes to the plant’s preferred temperature, anywhere between 50 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal. As long as it does not drop lower than 45 degrees Fahrenheit, your money tree will be completely fine.
The money tree does not have many particulars when it comes to soil type, as long as the soil is well-draining.
Avoid compact and dense soil types like clay-based soils, but if that is all you have, try adding perlite and organic components like peat to improve the drainage.
If you can get your hands on loamy soil that contains peat, that would be best. The roots can survive a little waterlogging, as long as the water can drain out of the soil quickly.
Although the plant can survive in alkaline or acidic soils, the ideal soil pH is between 6.0 and 7.5, which is right around the neutral zone.
The best fertilizer to use on your money tree is high in nitrogen, and the best time to feed the plant is in the springtime. This is when it is actively growing and will need the most nutrients and minerals from the soil.
You can still feed the plant in the fall, but switch over to a fertilizer with a lower nitrogen content and more potassium.
If you think the fertilizer you are using is too strong, try diluting it to half-strength to avoid soil toxicity, which can damage your plant’s roots.
Refrain from fertilizing in the winter, because this is when the plant is least active in terms of growth, so feeding it will only lead to soil toxicity.
Repotting your money tree
When choosing a new pot for your money tree, it should only be one size bigger than the old pot, because a pot that is too big will hold too much soil. More soil in the pot means more water is retained, thus increasing the chances of overwatering.
The new pot should also have drainage holes at the bottom so that any excess water can easily flow out, lessening the chances of overwatering and root rot.
If you plan to repot your money tree, make sure you water it well the night before so that it is happy and the soil in the pot is looser and softer the following day.
Remove the plant gently from its old pot and shake or wash off as much soil as you can from the roots. Inspect the roots for rot and use a sterile knife or scissors to remove any rotten parts until only healthy roots remain.
Lay the plant on dry paper towels and allow the roots to air-dry for a few hours.
Place half of the new soil in the new pot and position the plant in the middle before covering the roots with the rest of the soil.
Press down gently on the soil around the roots to make sure the plant is stable. Do not apply too much force because this can make the soil too compact, which the plant does not like.
Water the soil until you can see excess water flowing out of the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot. If any soil is dislodged or misplaced by the water, replace it with more soil.
Remember that repotting is a traumatic experience for the plant, so do not be surprised if you see signs of stress in the following days, such as leaves drooping or dropping. Just continue caring for the plant as usual and it should bounce back with no problem after a few weeks.
Pruning and braiding the money tree
If you are growing the money tree outdoors and it is full-size, you can prune off any dead leaves and stems to preserve its overall aesthetic.
If you like keeping the tree at a certain size or height, pruning will also help control its growth.
Most indoor money trees are braided, so they do not really need to be pruned as much. If you want to braid your money tree, it is best to start when the plant is still young, and when it has at least three stems to complete a braid.
Begin to braid the stems into one another without forcing them into angles and positions for which they are not sufficiently flexible. You can secure the stems in place with some twine to guide stubborn stems in the direction you want them to grow. Eventually, the stems will relax into the shape you prefer and you can continue the braiding process.
Money tree growing problems
The money tree’s leaves are where most of its growing problems stem from – no pun intended.
If you notice the leaves of your money tree turning yellow, this could be due to low humidity, or you may not be feeding the plant as often as it would like.
If the leaves are turning brown and crispy, underwatering is the most likely cause and you need to water the plant as soon as possible.
If the leaves are becoming pale, droopy, and soft to the touch, the plant is probably overwatered and could also be suffering from root rot.
Another sign of overwatering is the presence of mold on the top layer of the soil. Mold and fungi love growing in moist and dank conditions, and this is something you need to resolve immediately.
The most commonly-observed pests on money trees are mealybugs, scale insects and aphids. These insects are quite small and they all damage the plant in the same way, by sucking the sap from the plant’s leaves. This leaves brown spots on the surface of the leaves.
These pests also hide on the underside of the leaves and in the nooks and crannies of the stems, which makes discovering the infestation quite difficult, especially in its early stages.
You can either knock these pests off the plant with a strong stream of water, or apply neem oil directly to the affected areas so that the insects are killed immediately.
You can also use rubbing alcohol directly on the pests to kill them.
Make sure that you keep the affected plant in another room, far away from your other plants so that the pests do not spread.
Repeat your chosen treatment every three days until you are sure there are no longer any pests left on the plant. Keep the money tree in quarantine for two more weeks after you have removed all the pests in case you missed any pests or their eggs. This way you do not risk infesting your other plants.
The money tree is not succulent. It is a tropical wetland tree native to the swamps of Central and South America. It is called the money tree because many cultures believe that the presence of the plant in their home brings good fortune.
It is a low-maintenance plant that only needs indirect light. Let the soil around the plant’s roots dry out between waterings, keep the temperature between 50 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, give it well-draining soil, and fertilize it during the spring and summer but never during the winter.
Prune the plant if you want it to stay a certain height or if the foliage is becoming unruly.
Image: istockphoto.com / Michael Gollop