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PACHIRA aquatica

Image of Pachira aquatica

James Burghardt

Family

Bombacaceae

Botanical Name

PACHIRA aquatica

Plant Common Name

Guiana-chestnut, Malabar-chestnut

General Description

An imposing, buttressed trunk, hand-like green leaves, and trumpet-shaped, fragrant, white and red brush-like flowers make the Guiana-chestnut one of the tropic's most wondrous trees. A large, round-canopied, semi-evergreen tree native from Mexico to northern South America, it can remain evergreen and flower year-round in regions with constant warmth and moisture. The elephant-like, smooth, gray-light brown bark has a flared, buttressing base that grows with age and is more pronounced when growing near water.

The leaves are palmate, with five to nine, rich-green, elongated oval leaflets on a long petiole (leaf stem). New growth emerges spring to fall, and is highly glossy as it unfurls. As long as the weather is warm, the large, ivory colored, trumpet-shaped flowers bloom in succession. The petals curl backward to allow a mass of hundreds of long, whisker-like stamens to reach for the sky. They are ivory in color also, but turn a magenta-red at their tips. The flowers are scented of vanilla, most fragrantly at night when they first open. They wither and turn a dirty tan by the next afternoon. They are pollinated by bats. Egg-shaped, rusty-brown, fuzzy seedpods follow the flowers, and the dark edible seeds ("chestnuts") are embedded in a spongy pulp in the pods. These seeds float on water and can remain viable for months, sprouting wherever a stream may carry them.

Grow Guiana-chestnut in a moist, deep, fertile soil in full sun for best growth and flowering. It is naturally accustomed to seasonally wet to dry situations, with reduced water in the cooler winter months. In sandy or more alkaline soils, top-dress the soil with compost and mulch and apply balanced fertilizers in the rainy season. The branches can break relatively easily in strong tropical storms, and it may be advantageous to prune the tree to have a strong structure.

It is beautiful as a large specimen tree in a lawn or in a park with water features. It may be encountered as a small, potted houseplant when young, often with braided stems and referred to as the "money tree."

Characteristics

  • AHS Heat Zone

    12 - 8

  • USDA Hardiness Zone

    10 - 15

  • Sunset Zone

    H1, H2, 23, 24

  • Plant Type

    Tree

  • Sun Exposure

    Full Sun, Partial Sun

  • Height

    40'-70' / 12.2m - 21.3m

  • Width

    45'-75' / 13.7m - 22.9m

  • Bloom Time

    Late Spring, Early Summer, Summer, Late Summer, Early Fall, Fall, Late Fall, Early Winter

  • Native To

    Mexico, Central America, South America

Growing Conditions

  • Soil pH

    Acidic, Neutral

  • Soil Drainage

    Average

  • Soil type

    Loam, Sand

  • Tolerances

    Wet Site, Pollution, Drought, Soil Compaction

  • Growth Rate

    Fast

  • Water Requirements

    Average Water

  • Habit

    Oval/Rounded

  • Seasonal Interest

    Spring, Summer, Fall

Ornamental Features

  • Flower Interest

    Showy

  • Flower Color

    White, Magenta, Ivory

  • Flower Color Modifier

    Bicolor

  • Fruit Color

    Dark Red, Brown

  • Foliage Color (Spring)

    Green, Light Green

  • Foliage Color (Summer)

    Green

  • Foliage Color (Fall)

    Green

  • Foliage Color (Winter)

    Green

  • Bark Color

    Sandy Brown, Gray

  • Fragrant Flowers

    Yes

  • Fragrant Fruit

    No

  • Fragrant Foliage

    No

  • Bark or Stem Fragrant

    No

  • Flower Petal Number

    Single

  • Repeat Bloomer

    Yes

  • Showy Fruit

    Yes

  • Edible Fruit

    Yes

  • Showy Foliage

    Yes

  • Foliage Texture

    Coarse

  • Foliage Sheen

    Glossy

  • Evergreen

    Semi-Evergreen

  • Showy Bark

    No

Special Characteristics

  • Bark Texture

    Smooth

  • Usage

    Feature Plant, Shade Trees, Street Trees, Topiary / Bonsai / Espalier, Tropical

  • Sharp or Has Thorns

    No

  • Invasive

    No

  • Self-Sowing

    Yes