A money tree plant is a special type of bonsai tree. The design originated in Taiwan in the 1980s, and it was quickly picked up by many other Asian nations. Areas with large Asian populations frequently have these plants for sale, because they are supposed to bring good luck and fortune. It is particularly associated with China, and the plant is often given out at Chinese New Year complete with red banners and other lucky decorations.
The species used for a money tree plant is formally known as Pachira Aquatica, which is native to swamp lands in South America. If you saw a money tree 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.
The story goes that in the 1980s, a Taiwanese truck driver tried making bonsai with multiple trees, and braiding the stems together. The money tree plant was the result, and it can be found for sale in almost any Asian market. The trees are heavily handled while they grow, so that the stems can be braided into a central trunk of three, five, or more stems. The top of the plant is allowed to grow outward normally, so that the lucky leaves can flourish.
See below on how to care for your money tree plant.
A plant with leaves in clusters of seven, another powerful number, is considered to be especially lucky. The lucky trees can often be found in powerful places in the home, because plants and living things are supposed to be good for feng shui.
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.
Always follow the directions on the label of your fertilizer.
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 (see zones map here).
Over watering 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.