Tropical Chestnuts: Pachira aquatica

by Green Deane

in Edible Raw, Flour/Starch, Flowers, Grain/Nuts/Seeds, Greens/Pot Herb, Plants, Trees/Shrubs, Vegetable

When pods burst open the seeds are ready to eat

Resembles a peeled banana with red stamen

My foraging existence is slightly schizophrenic. I grew up in a northern climate, and I write about many northern plants, or it is accurate to say that the majority of the plants I write about are found in northern climes. Conversely I live in Florida, which is a different land altogether. Thus I am biclimatic, having spent 42% of my life in the north and 58% in the south… thus far.

A 400-mile long state, Florida has three distinct climates, temperate, subtropical and tropical. I can go 200 miles north or south and find extremely different plant communities, species that will grow in one place but not the other. One reason why I expanded my classes into southern Florida was to learn more about the tropical there, and this tree is one of them, the Pachira aquatica, formerly Bombax glabrum and a few other scientific names as well.  The nomenclature nonsense does not stop there with several common names for the Mallow Family member:  Guiana Chestnut, Malabar Chestnut, Provision Tree, Saba Nut, Monguba, Pumpo, Money Tree and Money Plant.

Pods can grow larger than a football

Pachira aquatica (pack-EYE-rah ah-QUAT-tic-ah) is native to Central and South American and quite at home in southern Florida and Puerto Rico. It’s also cultivated in southern California and Hawaii. Growing close to 60 feet in the tropical wild, it’s cultivated for its edible seeds that grow in a large, woody pod.  Out of the pod the seeds are shaped somewhat like chestnuts and taste similar when cooked, hence the common name. They also are covered with many white stripes, making them fairly easy to identify. The seeds’ flavor when raw is similar to peanuts. They can be eaten raw or cooked, or ground into flour. The cooked young leaves and flowers are also edible.

Ornamental trees are braided together

Calling the species the Money Tree or the Money plant is an innovation of the last 25 years or so. In 1986 a Taiwanese tuck driver put five small seedlings into one pot and weaved them together as they grew. He inadvertently invented the next hot ornamental plant and business took off in Taiwan, Japan and most of eastern Asia. The braided tree is viewed as associated with profit and is a common plant found in businesses, often with red ribbons or other ornaments attached. By 2005 export of the braided tree was a $7 million business in Taiwan.

Eat out of hand or cook

Why think the tree brings good financial luck? Numerology is still alive and well. The leaves are palmate, with five large leaves which symbolize the five basic Feng Shui elements; Metal, Wood, Water, Fire, Earth. And there are five trees braided together to re-enforce the number 5.

The genus name, Pachira is a Guyana term and aquatica means water. The tree likes to grow in swamps.

Green Deane’s Itemized Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: A spreading tree to 60 feet. Greenish bark and shiny, dark green compound leaves resembling a Schefflera. Flowers from a foot long bud, usually hidden by foliage. Five cream-colored petals of the large flowers droop revealing red-tipped off-white stamens. Those change to football-shaped woody pods that can reach a foot in length and half a foot in diameter. Tightly packed seeds in the pod enlarge until about a half inch in diameter causing the pod to crack open. Easily started from seed.

TIME OF YEAR: Flowers late fall or early winter, fruits in the spring

ENVIRONMENT: Does best in areas of periodic flood, or if water heavily often. It does not like dry wind, may endure temperatures briefly down to 28F.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Seeds edible when the pod cracks open, raw or cooked or ground into flour. Seeds raw taste similar to peanuts. Roasted or fried they taste similar to chestnuts.  Young leaves and flowers edible cooked, usually by boiling.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Harvey Rodgers November 28, 2016 at 13:12

Any concerns that this tree could become invasive in Florida? It is apparently adapted to swampy conditions and tolerates the south Florida climate.

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Froylan Castaneda July 26, 2016 at 21:32

I have been informed that the tea of the bark of Pachira acuatica (“zapoton”, which grows in swampy areas in the humid tropics) taken regularly for some time helps fight back or cure pain problems. Has anyone experienced this? Thank you. Cheers.

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aloice joseph September 2, 2015 at 12:31

Thanks for the information about this plant, pachira. Iam aware that there is pachira glabra and pachira aquatica. Which one is having the toxic material in the embryo? because I happen to have pachira glabra in my farm and Iam an activist in the global tree planting agenda and I would like to give people something good and safe. please,

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Mitzi Giles April 2, 2014 at 13:28

Hey I just spent 2 weeks researching the web for tropical nut trees and we found that Rare flora in DelRay Beach sells a hiphigh pachira for $30. We got ours and are trying to keep it well watered. Glad to see your article on it!

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Stephanie December 26, 2013 at 18:48

Thanks for this information! I have one of these trees, and the first time I ate the nuts was fine. They tasted good. So I planted a bunch of seeds, thinking I’d have a major source of food. But the next two times I tried eating the nuts, I felt very nauseated for several hours, with unpleasant consequences. Could it be that I’m allergic to them? I don’t have any other food or nut allergies. Or perhaps I got one that wasn’t ripe enough? Have your heard of this happening to others? I’m afraid to try eating it again.

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Green Deane December 26, 2013 at 19:14

Several questions come to mind such as which part are you eating? Where were they planted? Was this from different trees?

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Amber July 5, 2015 at 23:26

I’m looking around the web for more information right now, but I read on another website that the seeds may be toxic unless the embryo of the plant is removed. You might have been eating the supposedly toxic embryos.

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Melany Vorass Herrera June 18, 2013 at 13:46

Warm greetings, my husband and I are visiting Cuba next month. (He’s Cuban and hasn’t been back since his family fled in 1961.) I am G.I.-challenged and hope to find plenty of edible greens when there. I’ve been told there aren’t many greens to eat in stores and restaurants. Can you recommend a book or resource for southern Florida?

I will try searching your site using ‘florida’ and see what happens. Thanks!

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Entu Louis Ajah November 22, 2012 at 13:34

My chestnut appeared brownish with white stribes

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Entu Louis Ajah November 22, 2012 at 13:28

I like chestnut because of it nutritional value

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Joy McKenzie May 6, 2012 at 11:09

Hi
Did you know there are different varieties of the “money tree?” ….The fruit from my tree is green. The brown fruit pictured in the tree your article is another variety

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