Pachira aquatica is a tropical wetland tree of the mallow family Malvaceae, native to Central and South America where it grows in swamps. It is known by the common names Malabar chestnut, French peanut, Guiana chestnut, Provision tree, Saba nut, Monguba (Brazil), Pumpo (Guatemala) and is commercially sold under the names Money tree and Money plant. This tree is sometimes sold with a braided trunk and is commonly grown as a houseplant, although more commonly what is sold as a "Pachira aquatica" houseplant is in fact a similar species, P. glabra.
The genus name is derived from a language spoken in Guyana. The species name is Latin for "aquatic". It is classified in the subfamily Bombacoideae of the family Malvaceae. Previously it was assigned to Bombacaceae. The name "money tree" seems to refer to a story of its origin, where a poor man prayed for money, found this "odd" plant, took it home as an omen, and made money selling plants grown from its seeds.
Pachira aquatica can grow up to 18 m (59.1 ft) in height in the wild. It has shiny green palmate leaves with lanceolate leaflets and smooth green bark. The plant forms a slightly thickened root with smaller roots or roots, which also serves as a water reservoir. The relatively smooth bark is brown to gray and slightly cracked, young branches are vigorously green. At home, P. aquatica produces a broad crown.The transitional and long-stalked, composite hand-shaped, slightly leathery leaves are arranged at the branch ends. The petiole is up to 24 cm long. The leaves are bright green and shiny and consist of up to nine leaflets (fingers). The mostly bald, short-stalked leaflets are up to 20-28 cm long and rounded to round pointed, spiked or pointed. They are lanceolate or obovate, with a light middle veins. There are sloping stipules present. The leaves and flowers are also edible.
Its showy flowers, among the largest tree flowers in the world, have long, narrow petals that open like a banana peel to reveal hairlike yellowish orange stamens. The greenish-yellow or cream-colored, hermaphroditic and very large, short and thick-stalked flowers with double perianth look similar to shaving brushes, through the many long, at the top of red stamens. The construction of terminal and single or twosome or threefold flowers suggests that bats are the pollinators. The up to about 2 cm long, outside fine-haired, green-brown and overgrown calyx is dull and cup-shaped, the five narrow and elongated petals are up to 18-30 cm long and covered in the upper half. The approximately 180-250 stamens with white-reddish stamens and elongated anthers are overgrown and tufted above. The five-chambered ovaries uppermost with a long stylus with divided, short lobed scar. The pods are large, brown, woody, up to 20-30 cm long, rough, and egg-shaped, with a diameter of about 10-15 cm, weight of about 1-1.5 kg, and contain 10-25 nuts.
The tree grows well as a tropical ornamental in moist, frost-free areas, and can be started from seed or cutting. It is a durable plant and adapts well to different conditions. The plant needs light exposure without being in direct sunlight, though it is important that the plant be gradually introduced to direct sunlight in summer months, as the leaves are susceptible to sunburn. The Pachira thrives in both common potting soil and hydroponics.
The plant likes a lot of light, but also tolerates partial shade at room temperatures between 12°C and 25°C. The leaves may turn yellow and fall when the days are shorter in autumn but this is not a sign of disease and the plant will restart without problem the following spring. The tree is mature at 4 to 5 years of age or it produces its first fruits in spring and fall. Furthermore, it can withstand temperatures up to 5°C without losing its leaves, although it is recommended not to go below 12°C as for an orangery tree, the ideal culture temperature being about 20°C all year round with high humidity. In case of occasional weak frost, it loses its leaves which reappear then the following spring.
The plant prefers dehydration between the castings. The best durability can be achieved if it is kept rather dry, especially in the winter months. Dry heating air is to be avoided. It is best sprayed daily, otherwise it can react with leaf loss. In the first year the plant should not be fertilized. Thereafter, every 2-3 weeks during the pouring process, some fertilizer can be added during the summer. With good growth conditions, the plant grows quite fast. If it is too big, it can simply be cut back to the desired size. After about 1-2 weeks, new shoots form laterally of the cut off spots. A variety from Hawaii is the breeding in a lava stone as bonsai. The plant grows in this case only extremely slowly.
The tree is also sometimes cultivated for its nuts, which grow in a large, woody pod. The nuts are light brown, striped with white, about 2-3 cm long, and embedded in a spongy and fibrous pericarp. The pod is not eaten. The nuts develop within until the pod bursts and releases them. The nuts are considered edible, with a flavor similar to a European chestnut; it may also be ground and made as a hot drink. They are toxic to rats in the raw state, but are consumed by people raw or roasted.
In East Asia, Pachira aquatica (Chinese: 馬拉巴栗; pinyin: Mǎlābā lì; literally: 'Malabar chestnut') is often referred to as the "money tree" (發財樹 fācái shù). The tree had long been popular as an ornamental in Japan. In 1986, a Taiwanese truck driver first cultivated five small trees in a single flowerpot with their trunks braided. The popularity of these ornamentals took off in Japan and later much of the rest of East Asia. They are symbolically associated with good financial fortune and are typically seen in businesses, sometimes with red ribbons or other auspicious ornamentation attached. The trees play an important role in Taiwan's agricultural export economy with exports of NT$250 million (US$7 million) in 2005. However, much of what is in cultivation sold as Pachira aquatica is, in actuality, a similar species, P. glabra, which develops a thick base at a younger age and has a smaller growth habit, less showy flowers, and a 6" green seed pod rather than 12" brown seed pod.
The presence of cyclopropenoid fatty acids in the nuts has been used to state that the nuts are not edible and not suitable for human consumption, despite the nut being eaten or used in medicine. At least one review indicates that CPFA are carcinogenic, co-carcinogenic, and have medical and other effects on animals; according to this review, "CPFA in food is dangerous to human health". Out of 6 rats tested in a study of P. aquatica, 5 died after consuming the nuts. The surviving rat had enlarged organs including the stomach, liver, pancreas, kidneys, lungs and also had spleen atrophy. Research on the health effects of eating the nuts on humans is currently lacking.
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