Is a Money Tree a Bonsai? Exploring the Difference

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Money trees are popular houseplants known for their unique appearance and symbolism. However, there are some significant differences between the two. In this guide, we’ll explore whether a money tree is considered a bonsai and provide you with essential information on the care and maintenance of both plants.

The Money Tree: Origins and Symbolism

The Money Tree, a tropical wetland tree native to Central and South America, is a member of the Malvaceae family and thrives in wet and moist soil with indirect light. An intriguing fact about the Money Tree is that it was first cultivated as a bonsai by a Taiwanese truck driver in the 1980s.

According to legend, a poor Taiwanese farmer found a small Pachira plant – the Money Tree – growing in his field and believed that it could be a source of prosperity. Since then, the Money Tree has been seen as a symbol of abundance and wealth. In Feng Shui, it is considered an ideal living symbol of harmony and balance, as the number five, which represents change, is associated with the Money Tree, making it the perfect plant to attract positive change, such as money and wealth.

Today, the Money Tree is popularly grown as a bonsai because of its association with good luck and fortune, and it is also easy to care for, requiring regular pruning to maintain its small size. As a bonsai, the Money Tree not only serves as a symbol of prosperity but also adds a touch of beauty and elegance to any space.

Bonsai: The Art of Miniature Tree Cultivation

Bonsai is a beautiful and intricate art form that involves nurturing and shaping trees in containers to create miniature versions that mimic their natural counterparts. The word “bonsai” originates from Japan and it means “tray planting”. Bonsai artists use a combination of horticultural knowledge and artistic skill to create stunning miniaturized trees.

Although many tree and shrub species can be used in bonsai, a popular choice is the Money Tree (Pachira Aquatica). Native to Central and South America, the Money Tree is believed by some to bring good luck and fortune. Its unique braided trunk and straightforward care requirements make it an appealing candidate for bonsai enthusiasts, particularly beginners.

For proper cultivation and styling of a Money Tree Bonsai, certain tools and techniques are employed:

  • Pruning shears for branch pruning
  • Pruning scissors for leaf pruning and maintenance
  • Bonsai wire, around a quarter of the size of the trunk or branch, for wiring and shaping

Maintaining a Money Tree Bonsai requires diligence in trimming the canopy to form a dome-shaped illusion of a natural forest. Wiring offers control over the tree’s shape and direction, while regular pruning helps keep it small and manageable. Despite not being a traditional bonsai tree, the Money Tree’s unique features make it a desirable choice for bonsai growers seeking an attractive and meaningful addition to their collection.

Differences Between Money Trees and Bonsai Trees

Money trees (Pachira aquatica) and traditional bonsai trees originate from different plant families and have unique characteristics. Money trees are native to Central and northern South America and are members of the Malvaceae family. On the other hand, bonsai is a Japanese art form that can be applied to various tree species like Juniper or Ficus, to name a few.

One notable difference between money trees and other bonsai trees is the appearance of the trunk. Money trees often have braided trunks, which is a result of intertwining several young trees together. This braiding technique is not commonly used in traditional bonsai, which focuses more on shaping and pruning the tree to resemble an old and mature plant.

Another distinction lies in the growth patterns and sizes of the two types of trees. In the wild, money trees can grow up to 60 feet tall, whereas when cultivated indoors, they typically grow between 6 and 8 feet tall. Meanwhile, bonsai trees are intentionally kept small through pruning and training techniques. A money tree can also be trained as a bonsai if one prefers to keep it small.

Care requirements for money trees and bonsai trees can vary significantly as well. Money trees are low-maintenance indoor plants that require a moderate amount of light and water. In contrast, bonsai tree care depends on the specific species being cultivated, but generally, they require more attention to watering, pruning, and shaping.

Lastly, the symbolism associated with money trees is unique. They are often considered a token of good luck and fortune in Feng Shui practices, whereas bonsai trees focus more on the aesthetic elements and the concept of wabi-sabi – finding beauty in imperfection and transience.

Common Characteristics of Money Trees and Bonsai Trees

Money trees (Pachira aquatica) and bonsai trees share some common features, although there are significant differences between the two. Money trees are known for their slightly swollen trunk base, which serves as a water reservoir, and their brown-to-gray bark (Bonsai Empire). Bonsai trees, on the other hand, are a form of art where various tree species are grown in small containers and meticulously shaped to create a miniature representation of a fully-grown tree.

Both money trees and bonsai trees can be grown indoors and display a range of size variation. Money trees can grow between 6 to 8 feet tall when kept indoors, but can reach up to 60 feet in the wild (The Spruce). Bonsai trees, being a form of tree cultivation, can also be maintained within different size limitations depending on the desired appearance and the skill of the grower.

While money trees can be trained as bonsai, it may prove challenging due to their unique growth characteristics (Bonsai Starter). Money trees have large compound leaves that come on long stems, and their real branches and fine ramifications may not develop properly on smaller plants. Though it can be difficult, it is not impossible to cultivate a money tree as a bonsai.

The Process of Creating a Money Tree Bonsai

Creating a Money Tree Bonsai begins with selecting a healthy plant, often referred to as Pachira aquatica or Crassula ovata. These plants are popular for their intriguing braided trunk designs and the belief of bringing good luck and prosperity.

One of the most critical aspects of cultivating a Money Tree Bonsai is the soil selection. It is essential to use a well-draining soil mixture to promote healthy root development. Money Tree Bonsai thrives in a mix of loose potting soil with perlite, peat moss, or sand to enhance water drainage, as mentioned by Bonsai Alchemist.

These plants require specific care, and to ensure their success, attention should be paid to their watering and light requirements. Money Trees enjoy bright, indirect light, making them suitable to place in sunny areas like gardens or balconies, granted the temperatures remain above 12°C or 54°F, as advised by Bonsai Starter.

Watering a Money Tree Bonsai should be done carefully, ensuring the soil is dry first (Bonsai Starter). Money Trees prefer humidity, so placing them on a tray with wet gravel and regularly misting the foliage can create a suitable environment (Bonsai Empire).

Lastly, pruning and training the Money Tree Bonsai are essential for maintaining its shape and encouraging slow, balanced growth. As with any Bonsai, patience is key when cultivating a Money Tree Bonsai, aiming for a visually appealing and healthy plant.

Care and Maintenance of Money Trees

Proper care for Money Trees as bonsai plants involves paying close attention to their watering, humidity, and light requirements. It is essential to ensure that the soil is allowed to dry out before watering the plant thoroughly, as overwatering can lead to waterlogged soil and potentially damage the delicate root system of the tree(Bonsai Express). The ideal watering frequency for Money Trees is once every seven to ten days, and their leaves can also benefit from a gentle daily misting to provide additional moisture(Bonsai Tree Gardener).

High humidity is a requirement for Money Trees, so placing them on a tray with wet gravel can help maintain the necessary conditions. Frequently misting the foliage is also beneficial in this regard(Bonsai Empire). During the warmer months, Money Trees can be placed outside in a sunny location, as long as temperatures remain above 12°C (54°F)(Bonsai Empire).

For optimal growth and overall plant health, monitor the soil moisture before watering and ensure that 50-75% of the soil volume is dry. When watering, saturate the soil until water flows out of the drainage hole, and discard any excess water collected in a saucer(Bloomscape). Finally, be sure to use a pot with proper drainage holes and a soil mixture comprising earth and small gravel pebbles to facilitate adequate water drainage(Bonsai Outlet).

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