806 Pachira aquaticaCommon Names: water chestnut, Guiana chestnut, Malabar chestnut, money tree, saba nut Family: Bombacaceae (bombax or baobab Family)
Guiana chestnut is a spreading tree that grows to 60 ft (15 m) in the wild, but it is usually more like a large shrub in cultivation. It has greenish bark and shiny, dark green, compound, 8-10 in (20-25 cm) leaves that look like those of a schefflera (Schefflera actinophylla). The flowers emerge from 14 in (35.6 cm) long buds. They are usually almost hidden by the dense foliage, which stays on the tree during the bloom period, unlike that of similar Bombax and Chorisia species. The cream colored petals of the large flowers droop and disappear to show off dramatic clusters of 3-4 in (7.6-10 cm) crimson-tipped, off-white stamens. They are followed by football shaped woody pods which may reach 12 in (30.5 cm) in length and 5 in (12.7 cm)inches in diameter. Tightly packed nuts within the pod enlarge until about a 0.5 in (1.3 cm) in diameter and the pod bursts open.
Guiana chestnut, Pachira aquatica, is native to Central America and northern South America. It is cultivated in many tropical regions, including Hawaii and Southern California. In the wild, Pachira aquatica is a wetland tree that grows in freshwater swamps associated with tropical estuaries. It often grows alongside rivers, where its branches arch out over the water.
CultureGuiana chestnut does best in locations protected from drying winds. It should be fertilized frequently during the growing season. This tree seldom needs pruning. Light: Guiana chestnut may be grown in full sun to partial shade. Moisture: Pachira aquatica prefers a site that is flooded much of the time and may develop stilt roots under such conditions. Like most swamp trees, it is likely to grow faster if planted where the water will recede and let the roots get some oxygen now and then. When grown on an upland site, Guiana chestnut requires frequent and generous watering. Treat it like you would a very frost-tender baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) tree.
Hardiness: USDA Zones 10 - 11. Guiana chestnut will tolerate brief exposure to temperatures as low as 28ºF (-2.2ºC), but may drop some leaves. Hardiness: USDA Zones 10 - 11. Propagation: Plants are easily started from seed and will root from cuttings.
Guiana chestnut is grown both for tropical effect and for its edible nuts. It can also be potted up as a houseplant. The nuts taste sort of like peanuts. They are harvested when the seed pods burst and eaten raw, roasted, or fried. They also can be ground into a flour for baking bread. The young leaves and flowers may be cooked and used as a vegetable.
If you live in a flood prone tropical area where "well drained soil" is a scarce commodity, Guiana chestnut is an interesting food producing tree that won't take up space on your precious high ground. Plant it along the edge of a pond or swamp and watch it grow happily in standing water.
Linda Conway Duever 7/16/00