What’s the easiest indoor tree you can grow? We can’t say for certain, but Pachira Aquatica, or the Guiana chestnut, is definitely in the running.
This is the tree with the famous plaited trunk. Sadly, it doesn’t grow like this in nature. It’s become a tradition to weave the stems together to get the plant to grow in a classic, space-saving tree shape.
For the practitioners of Feng Shui, this plant also has another name: The money tree. It’s said to create positive energy in the home and is often decorated with red ribbons and charms for even more good fortune.
Pachira Aquatica care is easy to master, and how many other plants can claim to improve the chi in your home? Read on for everything you need to know about your new favorite plant.
||Money tree, Guiana chestnut, malabar chestnut, saba nut
||Ficus Benjamina (for the braided trunk)
||Wetlands of central and south America
||Up to 5 feet indoors.
||Moderate – high
||Bright indirect sunlight
||Moderate – high
||65 – 75F (18 – 24C)
||Rich, well-draining potting soil with extra peat moss
||High nitrogen or balanced liquid fertilizer diluted to half-strength
||Air layering or cuttings
The Guiana chestnut is almost unique in the house plant world. Its leaves of five, its braided stem, and its tolerance for over-zealous watering are qualities that you’ll struggle to find in other indoor plants.
Thankfully, there’s nothing particularly unique about the care instructions. It likes bright, indirect sunlight and nutrient-rich soil. If you can provide these things and keep the soil moist, Pachira will reward you with lots of new leaves, and maybe even some flowers and fruits.
Pachira Aquatica / Guiana Chestnut Care Tips
Because this plant is native to swamps and mangroves, it’s more resistant to overwatering than almost any other house plant. Yes, you shouldn’t overdo it, and if the plant stands in a pot full of water for too long it’s not going to survive. But there’s a lot more room for error than you have with anything from the Ficus family or even any rainforest plant.
It’s best practice to let the pot dry out slightly and then soak it. You might find that you have to do this up to 3 times a week to keep your Pachira looking its best in the summer.
Use rainwater or distilled water if you can. The chemicals in tap water can disrupt this hungry plant’s ability to absorb the nutrients from its soil.
You have the highest chance of damaging your plant by overwatering it in the winter. As with most indoor plants, the Guiana chestnut’s growth slows down in the colder months. You’ll know if you’ve overwatered it if the leaves start to drop.
This plant loves to grow toward the light, so an essential task in Guiana chestnut care is to turn it regularly so that it continues to grow straight. If it starts to lean, the plaited trunk can become warped.
It’s best to put your plant somewhere that it can enjoy bright, indirect sunlight for at least 6 hours a day. It can tolerate direct light to an extent, but the high-summer afternoon sun will burn the leaves. Since larger specimens won’t fit on a windowsill, though, it’s not too difficult to prevent this plant from scorching.
Pachira thrives at about 50% humidity. Although that’s lower than many common house plants need, it’s still a little higher than what you find in most homes. Especially in the winter, you should either mist this plant or place the pot on a tray of pebbles filled with water. As the water evaporates from the tray, the humidity around the leaves will increase.
When you group plants together, they create a microclimate with a higher level of humidity. A lone plant can’t do this by itself. Growers often run into problems because Pachira Aquatica is a statement plant that is usually given its own space.
If the environment is too dry, the leaves of this plant will start to turn yellow.
Plant Food and Soil
The Guiana chestnut is a water-loving wetland plant, but it still needs a well-draining potting soil with lots of nutrients. Try and find the peatiest soil you can, or add a few handfuls of peat moss to your pot.
You only need to feed this plant 2 or 3 times during the growing season, especially if you’re growing the bonsai version. To protect the roots, it’s best to dilute a liquid fertilizer to half strength and feed your plant once a month.
If you’re keen to get the maximum growth from your plant, choose a fertilizer with a higher nitrogen content (a 12 6 6 mix works well). This will be especially helpful at the beginning of the year.
Additional Pachira Aquatica Care Tips
The advice above is a great starting point for when you first bring your Pachira home. However, if you’re buying one, it’s important to remember that you’re taking on a tree. It gets big, it’s long-lived and it’s going to be with you for a long time.
With this in mind, we’ve also assembled some tips on caring for your Pachira Aquatica in the long term.
Because growers don’t want to disturb the stems, Guiana chestnuts often go a long time without being repotted. It’s likely that the pot you bring yours home in is already too small. Unless the plant is the perfect size for your space, consider repotting it as soon as you get home.
This plant will continue to grow taller until you refuse to give it a bigger pot. This means that you need to base your repotting decisions on the size of your room.
As with all houseplants, you should repot it in the spring. In the years when you don’t repot, refresh the top 2 – 3 inches of soil to give the plant some extra nutrients.
Your Pachira will grow slowly so, unless you have dead leaves, you shouldn’t have to prune it regularly. Left in open soil, it has the potential to grow into a 70-foot tree. Inside, its pot and braided stem help to keep the growth in check.
By the way, you shouldn’t ever have to rebraid or add to the plain in the stems. It’ll continue to grow that way without any extra attention.
If you prune the stray branches from the crown in the spring, your plant should give you new growth and begin to look fuller. As always, make sure you use clean, sharp shears to help your plant recover from its haircut.
With the Guiana chestnut, you should be wary of all common house plant pests. From mealybugs to scales to aphids, any of them can become a problem. However, Pachira isn’t any more attractive to pests than your other plants, so if the bugs aren’t in your house already, you don’t have to worry.
One thing that you do need to watch out for is gnats. This plant likes peaty soil and lots of moisture. This makes it the ideal breeding ground for the tiny, annoying flies. If you want to discourage gnats, use a fresh bag of peat moss when you repot your plant and consider using a sticky trap to catch them.
The good news is that this plant is generally considered to be non-toxic. They’ve been cultivated for their chestnuts for centuries with no ill effects. The chestnuts are used to make everything from flour to hot drinks, but it’s possible to eat all parts of the plant.
A recent study has shown that you should be more cautious about your pets eating the nuts. They contain fatty acids which can be harmful to animals. This is less of a problem with indoor plants, as they rarely fruit, but contact your vet if you suspect a pet has eaten this plant.
Where can I buy?
The Guiana chestnut is a classic house plant, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to track one down. Because they’re often larger, we recommend ordering online and having it delivered. Bringing a big plant home without damaging it can be a stressful experience
However, if you have space in your car or fancy reserving a seat for your new plant on the bus, they’re a staple of larger garden centers and furniture stores. Our favorite Swedish flat-pack furniture chain almost always has them in stock.
What kind of soil should I use?
A well-draining potting soil is a good place to start with this plant. Although it grows in marshes, it doesn’t like to be waterlogged. You want to find something that will leave lots of air gaps around the roots and allow the water to run through.
You should also find your Pachira a soil with a high percentage of peat moss. This makes the soil acidic and holds the nutrients to stop them from being washed out when you water your plant.
How can I make it flower?
This tree produces fruits so, naturally, it has to flower first. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to force a Guiana chestnut to flower indoors.
Some growers suggest that using plant food with a high percentage of potassium will encourage the plant to bloom. Unfortunately, the flowers develop when the seasons change, and it’s very difficult to emulate this indoors.
If you live in a warmer part of the country and are growing Pachira outdoors, it’s much more likely to flower. As long as you meet its basic soil, watering and light needs, a mature plant should bloom.
And you should look forward to it too. The flowers of a Guiana chestnut are some of the largest tree flowers in nature. Their white or yellow petals fold back to reveal a burst of long, red stamens which look like a firework.
Why is my plant dropping leaves?
Pachira leaves usually drop because you’ve overwatered your plant. It sounds counterintuitive, but the first sign that the roots are drowning is actually crispy leaves falling off the plant.
If you’re confident that your watering is not the problem, ask yourself whether you’ve recently moved the plant. The Guiana chestnut doesn’t like to be disturbed. Even touring the different rooms of your house can upset it to the point where it starts to drop leaves.
You should think about where you’re going to put it before you bring it home. Consider the light in your home and how it will look with the rest of your plants or furniture. Once it’s in the perfect spot, leave it there.
Why is it called a money tree?
Though we all know that there’s no such thing as a magic money tree, the Guiana chestnut comes close. It got its common name because it brings good fortune. For the practitioners of Feng Shui, when it’s placed correctly in a room, it brings chi, positive energy and, in turn, wealth.
As well as this, the leaves bring good fortune, as 5 is a lucky number in many cultures. It’s said that the trunks are braided to keep in the luck, but we can’t date this tradition earlier than the 1980s. It may just have been a more convenient way to transport the tree when they became popular outside of Taiwan.
Speaking practically, if you have an older, larger Pachira Aquatica and you can bare to part with it, it could also be worth a lot of money.
This plant is a fantastic statement piece in any setting. It might need slightly more attention than some of your other plants, but you’ll get to enjoy the beautiful stems, lush leaves and maybe even some of the biggest and brashest flowers you’ll ever see on a tree.
It shouldn’t be too hard to find a Pachira, and it certainly isn’t difficult to keep it looking in top condition. It may not be lucky, it may never bring you wealth, but it is a joy to care for.