Pachira aquatica and Pachira glabra

More photographs today from Ian Crown of the Puerto Rican fruit farm, Panoramic Fruit. Thank you Ian!

Also, before getting into today’s entry, welcome readers from the Winston-Salem Journal!

These photographs weren’t all taken in the same place or time, and I believe them to be of two separate species. The first photograph, with the crimson-tipped stamens and yellowish-white strap-like petals is, I think, Pachira aquatica, known commonly as Guiana chestnut or Malabar chestnut. The second and third photographs feature what I’ve tentatively identified as Pachira glabra. In Margaret Barwick’s excellent Tropical and Subtropical Trees: An Encyclopedia, she notes Pachira glabra, or saba nut, to have “light-green, strap-like petals and wiry, white, curving stamens”. Hawaiian Tropical Plant Nursery provides brief descriptions of the two species, and also adds: “Much of the material in cultivation as Pachira aquatica is actually Pachira glabra…” Many of the so-called “money trees”, it is implied, are therefore Pachira glabra.

Both species are native from Mexico to northern South America. Pachira aquatica grows in coastal estuaries; its seeds are “designed to withstand humidity and are capable of floating in water for months”, according to Barwick. Pachira glabra is a species of lowland rainforests and alluvial plains.

Ian Crown wrote the following, but given my notes regarding identification of these two species above, I think parts of this account may be apply to Pachira aquatica, Pachira glabra or both:

“I first encountered Pachira aquatica, the Malabar chestnut, in 1994. I was just starting up an exotic fruit farm in western Puerto Rico and everyone there said I had to meet Milton Perez, the owner of a large garden center in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico. I made a point of doing so and ended up with a very dear friend who sadly passed away in 2006 around this time of year.”

“Milton had the plant version of a menagerie; so many specimens of different fruits and ornamental plants and lumber species, it boggled the mind. Along a drainage canal, he had a few trees of something new to me but which produced edible, delicious nuts in a football-shaped pod. Milton handed me a few to try. Once the thin woody shell was peeled off, they were crunchy and reminded me of raw peanuts but were a bit larger and bone white. The seeds readily sprouted, grew rapidly, and produced their own flowers and then new seeds within just 2 years. Welcome to the tropics! Those first seeds produced several generations of trees which are now planted in the yards of my crew and many other places. And we still use the trees to reduce erosion where the slope is steep and these trees keeps us in nuts almost year-round. Not for sale, we just give them to locals just the way Milton did years ago.”

“One striking feature of this species is that the trunk remains green for many years* and looks like it would be soft. But it withstands hurricanes up to a Category 3 or 4 with little damage, stabilizes the soil, likes very wet spots, tolerates drier sites and is suited to periods of submersion like many Amazon tree species. To add to this roster, it is probably in your nearby supermarket as an almost indestructible bonsai plant. Very hard to drown if given enough light. It is a pretty good house plant and dry air does little to it.”

*I’ll add that one of the reasons I think Ian’s account likely includes both species is his description of the trunk. On Pachira glabra, Barwick notes: “It is ornamental, distinguished by…its bright green trunk, limbs and fruit”.

Pachira aquatica
Pachira glabra
Pachira glabra

23 responses to “Pachira aquatica and Pachira glabra”

  1. Sue in Bremerton

    I like this one, a lot. Seems to be an all purpose tree. Very interesting facts.
    Thank you.

  2. annie Morgan

    Oh the first one is so beautiful – feathery, graceful – just exquisite. Great commentary – as usual!

  3. elizabeth a airhart

    in friend ships fragrant garden
    there are flowers of every hue
    each with it’s own fair beauty
    and its gift of joy for you
    joyful flower all dressed up and
    ready to go out would a make a wonderful
    mardi gras headpiece
    thank you really the best photos
    and a fine shareing write up
    botony a day is my favorite place

  4. Quin

    a bird of paradise! thanks

  5. phillip

    … wow…what a great write up….keep it up…

  6. Wendy Cutler

    You’d think a plant so all-around useful would be better known. And it’s so beautiful too. Great photos.
    The photos at that Panorama Fruit link in Puerto Rico made me want to go there. And the Hawaiian Tropical Plant Nursery link describes a lot of fruits and has photos for most of them. I bookmarked that.

  7. SvenLittkowski

    Nice plant. Can the fruit be eaten?

  8. Mary Ann, in Toronto

    The subjects of these photos are all so beautiful. And a very interesting write-up about these tree species.
    What exquisite, stunning flowers.
    And the nuts are also very appealing, in their texture, gradations of colour, veining. They remind me of a new litter of light-brown puppies, all snuggled up together in their plush bed.

  9. Bryan

    Nice photos Ian!!!

  10. Chris

    Beautiful pictures of another plant I didn’t know! And good info. Thanks!

  11. lisa

    Pachiras are a widely grown houseplant here in Seattle They are commonly called ‘money tree’, and now are almost impossible to get anymore without a braided trunk. The tree is thought to bring wealth into the home, and I’ve been told that the braided trunks serve to ‘lock’ it in – prevent the money from leaving the home, (this is just one saying).
    It is unfortunate, because the tree has a lovely natural structure when not braided.
    I have never had the opportunity to see one bloom, and what gorgeous blooms they are. Thank you, as always, for an informational and thoroughly enjoyable entry, and the lovely photos.

  12. Island Jim

    Sorting out species and common names for these two, I’ve discovered, is a daunting task.

  13. Ian

    Once I decided to send these photos to Daniel, I hit a snag. The Latin names and what to call them. So I took the easy way out and let a botanist run them down. Daniel did this leg work and said I might want to amend or add to my entry based on what he has written. At first, I did not. I had, over the years, taken many photos of these trees and realized one year that we had two completely different flowers coming from what looked like but were apparently not identical trees. Milton had offered me seeds from his Pachira on several occasions but mentioned that there was another species next to the ones where I had collected most of my seeds called Pachira insignis. Not being sure of the Latin is, to me, quite unsettling so I contacted the international nomenclature people who said there is no ruling body dictating what is the final word. And I kept getting corrected by people from around the world about my plant ID. So let me submit this so we can share my confusion. Using Google image search, enter Bombax glabra. You see white flowers, green pod. Enter Pachira glabra and you see mostly the same and it is equated with P. aquatica. Now enter Bombacopsis glabra and your head should begin to smoke behind the ears. But I am not quite done yet. Enter Pachira insignis; you see both flower types, both pod types. In “Brazilian fruits and cultivated exotics” ( Harri Lorenzi, Luis Bacher and others) from the Instituto Plantarum, they clearly dichotomize these into white flower, green pod = Bombacopsis glabra, syn. Pachira glabra and red flower, brown pod = Pachira aquatica, syn. Bombax aquaticum, B. macrocarpum, B. rigidifolium, Carolinea macrocarpa and Pachira pustilifera. On my farm, we have both flowers but so far, only green pods. To finish this wordy entry, enter Carolinea macrocarpa and the same photo I sent in reappears, used without my permission by someone here:
    http://forum.zira3a.net/showthread.php?p=127222
    Notice the synonyms, in English, part way down. And enjoy the madness.

  14. linda miller

    This is a great series of photos……thank you again. Linda
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lcmillerart/

  15. Janey Pugh

    This is a wonderful site, I love all the images. Fantastic. Thank you!

  16. Tyler

    Great entry today…

  17. Bonnie fulp

    couldn’t understand why I wasn’t getting the daily pictures after signing up! Thanks for letting me know!

  18. mary

    those are the best photo of malabar nut really help me to know the differences …with my research paper.

  19. Barry Stock

    The fruit and seeds described are of Pachira glabra, not Pachira aquatica, the “French Peanut”. They are tasty out of hand and come in the five-sided capsule shown. Pachira aquatica is edible, apparently, but I believe it must be cooked. It is quite bitter raw, and rats fed on it raw died within a week. However, the Spanish referred to it as “The Provision Tree” during their conquests, and cooked it twice (method unknown, probably boil then bake) to consume it. The fruit is much larger, brown, and very much like an American football in shape.

  20. Barry Stock

    The taxonomy of “French Peanut” is confused. Variously Bombax glabra, Bombacopsis glabra (probably correct), Pachira glabra and Pachira macrocarpa. Bombax is an Old World genus, and French Peanut probably refers to trees grown from fruit brought to Africa. It originates in the New World, so Bombax is out. It does not cross with Pachira aquatica, so they are probably not as closely related as it would seem based on appearances. Bombacopsis glabra is about as good as it gets.

  21. David Eickhoff

    Aloha,
    I have photos of a Pachira. But, would you know which species this is?
    I have included some links to my Flickr Photostream. You will note, I have two differing comments as to the species.
    Mahalo,
    David
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/dweickhoff/9271877332/in/photostream/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/dweickhoff/9269092039/in/photostream
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/dweickhoff/9269088177/in/photostream/

  22. Ken Kennedy

    Recently saw a couple of Saba nut trees at a neighbor’s house here in Manila Philippines that are in fruit and decided to research … this tree would have been good for food security but a 2012 study:
    Chemical Characterization and Stability of the Bombacopsis glabra Nut Oil
    “Abstract
    The aim of this study was to characterize the
    Bombacopis glabra nut oil (Malvaceae-Bombacoideae) by the
    determination of its lipid content and fatty acid composition with emphasis on the cyclopropenoid fatt
    y acids (CPFA)…The high percentage of CPFA oil, determined…that the kernels of this species are not suitable for human consumption.”
    Full article at http://article.sapub.org/pdf/10.5923.j.fph.20120204.04.pdf

  23. stan

    My wife and I were introduced to the Provision Tree by one of our river guides, a Rasta, in Belize. He pointed out the flower – which did look like your top entry and then proceeded to tell us about all the marvelous uses for the tree, its bark and fruit. When we hit the river bank and hiked into the jungle, he set off to find a tree to strip its bark which he said he was going to use to make a medicinal tea – for energy.
    I was so impressed by all the uses for the tree that when I got back to the States, I did some research on the tree and it’s claimed uses and then happened upon a large display of Money Trees at our local warehouse store. I thought I had found the holy grail but then have been reading that much of the domesticated Money Trees are not Pachiri aquatica but Pachiri glabra – which led me to your site. From your comments, I guess I can take comfort that if you are confused (or frustrated) by all the mis-identifications, what hope is there for me?. I am doubting that what I have found locally is the Provision Tree that I was introduced to in Belize.

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