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. The plant itself is already considered to be fortunate by followers of feng shui, because of its five lobed palmate leaves. A plant with leaves in clusters of seven, another powerful number, is considered to be especially lucky. The leaves are edible, along with the flowers and nuts that it forms. 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.
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.
If well cared for, these plants can grow to well over 6 feet (2 meters) in height. Even if indifferently cared for, they will usually thrive. Low light is preferred, and the plant should be allowed to dry out between waterings. If the leaves start to crinkle or curl, the plant is being over or underwatered. It can also be grown outdoors, in USDA Zones 9-11.
The succulent Crassula ovata, or Jade plant, is also sometimes called the money tree plant. It is also native to South America and extremely tolerant to minimal care. Jade plants can also thrive at much lower temperatures outdoors, although the fleshy leaves are susceptible to frostbite if the plant is not covered on extremely cold nights.