The walking tree gains its name from its stilt-like root system. It also is called a stilt root palm or cashapona and is part of the genus Socratea, which includes five species. Socratea exorrhiza is the most commonly seen species, growing in regions of Nicaragua, various parts of South America and Hawaii.
The dark brown roots of the walking tree grow up to 6 feet above ground, with the trunk far above the soil. Some roots grow high enough for you to stand under. The tree itself grows up to 65 feet tall, and the greenish blue leaves grow up to 6 feet long, creating a light canopy. The fruit of the walking tree is yellow and round to oval in shape, and about an inch in diameter.
The walking tree doesn't actually walk. Its roots, which grow above ground from the base of the stem or trunk, make it appear as though it is standing on stilts. New roots emerge from a higher point than older roots below. Over time the tree stands higher off the ground. Lower roots rot and fall away. The new roots grow toward better light and as a result the tree itself moves. This is helpful when young trees are knocked over. The roots continue to grow from the stem into the ground. They are no longer causing the tree to grow taller, but grow horizontally. Once they've grown far enough along the trunk that the crown is vertical again, the tree grows normally once more. The process is slow and the tree does not actually visibly walk, but over a period of one year, a single tree can move up to 3 feet from its original position.
Growing in abundance in the Amazon rain forest, the walking tree also can be found at the base of the Andes range along with other closely related species. The walking tree requires warm, sheltered climates that are very humid as well as moist soils.
The trunk of the walking tree often is used in the construction of homes. It typically is cut lengthwise, but can be hollowed out and used as a tube. The inner parts of the roots are used as an aphrodisiac for men.