If you've ever noticed a little potted tree with an unusual braided trunk (that's one on the far left in the photo above), you've encountered a money tree. The trunk braid and leaves have symbolism for many people who believe that they bring good luck and financial success. But even if such considerations aren't meaningful to you, you can definitely still enjoy this plant for its fun and unusual trunk, lively green leaves, and relatively low-maintenance watering needs.
About This Plant
If you saw a money tree, or Pachira aquatica, in its native habitat of Central and South American swamps, you probably wouldn't recognize it. The tree can grow up to 60 feet tall (versus a max of 3 to 6 feet indoors), and that ubiquitous braided trunk isn't a natural feature. When grown in a nursery, the supple young, green trunks are slowly braided by cultivators before they harden and turn woody.
Where to Grow
Money trees prefer bright, indirect light and moderate-to-high humidity. Direct sunlight can lead to leaf-scorching, but the plants can do relatively well in low light. Exposure to too many drafts, though, may cause leaf loss. Heater vents and hot, dry air also need to be avoided.
If you can't keep your money tree in a bright, steamy bathroom, make it a humidity-enhancing pebble tray by filling a shallow tray with small rocks, adding water to partially cover the rocks, and setting the plant on top.
Money trees can survive outdoors in USDA zones 10 through 12, but otherwise need to be houseplants.
How to Care for a Money Tree
To avoid root rot, a money tree needs a sandy, peat-moss-based soil and a pot with good drainage. Although it likes humidity in general, you should let its soil dry out between watering. A good schedule for most environments is to water when the top 2-4 inches of soil are dry. Water thoroughly, until water flows out the drainage holes of the pot, and pour out the excess from the tray so that the roots don't sit in water.
During the growing season, fertilize once a month with a liquid plant food at half strength, but skip fertilizer in the winter.
How to Propagate
With clean pruning shears, cut off the tip of a stem with at least two leaf nodes. Dip the cut end in hormone rooting powder, and place in a standard potting mix. Keep the soil moist with regular misting until the cutting roots, in approximately 4 weeks.
Overwatering and too much sunlight are the most common causes of problems with money plants, though they can also suffer from scale insects, mealybugs, and aphids. Bugs can be treated with a systemic insect control, or horticultural oil spray.
Money Tree Bonsai
This tree often comes as a group of five trees braided or twisted together. To maintain the shape, or to guide the trunks into a braid yourself, wrap some sturdy string around the tops of the trunks to bind them together tightly as they grow. Read up on other training techniques to keep them small and in the shape you want.