Growing multi- tiered trees
Published on: Sunday, March 15, 2020
By: Eskay Ong
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Money Tree with three tiers of foliage.
IT is difficult to imagine a world without trees, save for the desert, ice-clad mountain tops, or the North and South Poles, or perhaps some other places such as inside a volcano.

Trees provide a layer of green mantle over most parts of the world which benefit all living things.  They have always been a topic for much intellectual discourses as well as less than genteel arguments over its uses especially if they are of the commercial kayu balak types. Moreover, there are always debates about how over-harvesting and destruction may result in the destruction of the environment. This has become such a pressing issue to the extent that international food manufacturing behemoths and other industries have regularly been in the spotlight for using products from supply chains that destroyed tree covers.

While it is acceptable that some trees may have to be hacked down and removed on the basis that it has rotted to the core and is completely unsalvageable, other living, healthy and still-standing trees should never, if at all possible, be harmed or cut down.  In such instances, kudos must be accorded to the local authorities for having saved many trees from the chainsaws, such in cases where even important roads or drains have to be slightly realigned to accommodate affected trees.

There are still many old trees of around a hundred years old within many local authority or city boundaries in Sabah. Most of these are the tough and hardy rain trees which are much treasured for their huge umbrella-shaped canopy and their cooling shade.  Many other trees have their own crown shapes including conical, globular, columnar, tiered or unipolar each with their own peculiar single, multiple or split canopies.

While single tiered trees are plentiful, there are visibly fewer varieties that are of the multi-tiered type.  Some examples of the latter group would include Ketapang, Tabebuia, Bucida and Pachira. These varieties of multi-tiered trees can often be seen everywhere especially since they have been widely used in landscaping works.

Unfortunately, all these tiered trees can only display their beautiful tiered canopies very clearly during the early stages of growth, which is around four to six years or a height of four to five metres.  More than that, the entire tree reverts to its natural, slightly dishevelled shape where the hunches and droops may be clearly visible.

Ketapangs have been planted for as long as one can remember, and is still being planted today.  Heavy foliar abscission occurs twice a year but may be altered by a change in the weather pattern.  Despite the leaf fall, the tree is still popular because of its superior shade and the ease of removal of the fallen leaves.  

This is quite different from the small leaves of bucida or rain trees which, if not regularly removed, may form a thick matted layer which is bad even for carpet grass to struggle through.  Trumpet Tree or Pink Tecoma of the Tabebuia group, is another widely-grown multi-tiered tree.  It is a very popular flowering ornamental tree valued for its large masses of pink flowers during the blooming season.  

Unlike Ketapangs which have solid, tough and firmly-held horizontal lateral branches, Trumpet Trees produce softer grades of such branches, which lead to branch sag at the terminals as growth extends laterally. This is the cause of the sometimes sloppy appearance that appears in the crown as the years go by.  Fortunately, in many flowering trees, the negative perceptions are more often than not compensated for by their beautiful tiers or their profuse and spectacular blooms. 

Pachira aquatica, the money tree

Pachira aquatica is one of the very few multi-tiered trees that is found in Sabah although its place of origin is in Central to South America.  Commonly known as Money Tree of Money Plant, pachira trees are actually not a bad species to cultivate, from the angle of landscape potential, to enhance urban greenery.  

As landscape trees, its features are best displayed by planting them as singles from where they can grow into very large trees, but as potted plants, there is no limit to the possibilities.  It can be a small 15 cm plant with several neatly braided stems interlocked together and set in nice containers which can be placed both indoors and outdoors.  Or it can be trained into a bonsai with a large swollen caudex which is usually the main attraction.

When planted in clusters, there should be sufficient space between them so as not to encourage overlapping of foliage and mutual shading.  Avenue or line planting should also leave enough space between them as any overlapping of the canopy may result in the distortion of its tiers.

In the case of home gardening, make sure the ornamental is not planted under the shade of say, rain tree or coconut palm although it still can thrive with little sunshine. This is a flexible characteristic of the plant where it can grow under any situation, as a result of which interior naturescapers have fully taken advantage of the flexibility by displaying them in attractive containers indoors in bush or mop-headed form.

As a tree, the first few years of growth may see the formation of numerous tiers with each extending radially outwards in a near horizontal plane. This process of tier formation continues and as the tree adds in the years, the crown shape becomes less distinctly characteristic of one that is multi-tiered. Branches also become very thick, woody and tough which may necessitate an occasional pruning to keep the shape of the tree in proper perspective.

Leaves of the Money Tree are of the compound type with each petiole normally carrying from four to seven lobes.  It is a very rare phenomenon to see less than four or more than seven lobes if at all there is one.  Depending on the number of leaflets, such structures may be called trifoliate, pentafoliate, and so on.  Normally the younger plants have less lobes in their leaves, and together with the general health of the tree, these factors can be used to gauge its nutritional well-being.

Fruits of the Money Tree are in pod form, and they look quite alike cocoa pods except that the latter can be much bigger in size.  Such fruit pods are formed from flower buds which are borne either singly or in small clusters of two to five numbers at the terminals of lateral branches.

Each flower is made up of a bunch of white filamentous stamens measuring about 6-8 cm in length.  These structures surround a central pistil which remain until the fruit ripens.  Stamens form the main element that one sees as the flower, but unfortunately, they drop off very quickly, usually within one to two days, and sometimes, even by the morning of the next day.  So, to see the flowers of Money Tree, one has to monitor closely the flowering process and be alert at all times.  Who knows, seeing the flower in bloom may bring in money luck and with it a flood of money into the bank account after a dutiful follow-up to your regular jackpot outlet.

Fruit pods normally contain between 5-6 lobes, with each section holding from three to six seeds. Many of the seeds may not be fully filled, and these remain non-viable for planting purposes.  Only solid seeds yield seedlings, but because of its polyembryonic nature, it is still possible to obtain large numbers of seedlings from the few remaining solid seeds of each fruit.

Planting money tree as ornamentals

Money trees are fast growers and may attain a height of up to 3 metres in the first year of growth.  If left unhindered in good soil, a mature tree may quickly touch 10-15 metres or more in height.

Propagation of the tree is either by seeds or cuttings, of which the former is more convenient and yields better plants.  Compared to other varieties of plants, seedlings of money tree germinate surprisingly fast.  On continuous contact with moisture, water permeates the seed coat which swells the entire seed thus breaking the seed coat in the process.  

During germination, the hypocotyl lifts the entire cotyledon out of the germination medium to leave the shrivelled-up seed coat behind.  Occasionally, the seed coat is stuck to the cotyledons which is actually harmless if the cotyledons have already opened.

On exposure to the first sunshine, the cotyledons begin to turn green. This indicates that the process of photosynthesis has commenced and has begun to push the seedling into further growth and development by starting with the formation of the first true leaves.

Generally, it takes about 20 days for all the seedlings to come up to the first true leave stage.  Anything that comes up after that should be considered as lacking in vigour, which should therefore be separated if you are talking about growing large healthy trees for landscaping and greening purposes.  

The left-behinds, such as the tiny, skinny and weak ones, including the few that lack vigour, may be repurposed and converted into bonsais in small pots.  Such plants are very hardy and require very little watering, even as little as once in three weeks.

The great advantage of seed-grown money trees is that of its very strong central tap root above which is a fat, bulbous caudex. This gives the young plants a pretty exotic appearance. With a strong tap root, the entire plant, even when it has grown into a large tree, becomes very securely anchored to the ground.

Young plants of Pachira aquatic that are grown from seeds can also be used as pot plants for decorative purposes.  In fact, with the bulbous caudex at the base of the plant sitting in a pot, it should appear to very attractive indeed.  Alternatively, young seedlings may be trained into bonsais, or they may be braided into a twisty stem for added attraction.

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December 20, 2014