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”.