The Sensitive Plant

I buy plants for their scent… for the colors of their blooms… for their growing habit. But rarely have I bought plants for their novelty. That changed when I came across Mimosa pudica.

Mimosa pudica’s foliage has a feathery effect. Its leaves are elongated ovals, made decorative by the many slits that morph them into something reminiscent of small, rounded ferns. But it is not the shape of the leaves that sparks my interest in Mimosa pudica. No… instead, it is what these compound leaves do.

My Mimosa pudica plants—plants which spread rapidly in warm climates but which I intend to maintain as miniature plants indoors—arrived at my home, protectively cushioned in recyclable pillow-pack containers to maintain temperature and preserve foliage on the jostling trip state-to-state. In opening my first pack, I knew immediately what I was seeing, having read about these miniature plants. Its stem was thin but strong, with prickles. But its green effect was almost unnoticeable, as its leaves had folded inward so tightly that I could see nothing of the fernlike foliage I had admired in pictures.

I unpacked my miniature plants, placed them on my countertop, and let them acclimate. I gazed upon my new Mexican Heather in full flower, Portulaca, and more—full, healthy, and beautiful. I noticed that a thank-you card included with my order highlighted, coincidentally, Mimosa pudica’s leaves. I still had not yet seen them unfurled.

I went about my work, and took time away from the plants. Then lo and behold, I returned to my counter to find that things had filled out with much more greenery. There were leaves I had not seen before. More life, more green….

My other plants looked lovely and fresh, as they had when I unpacked them. But my Mimosa pudicas… these had become completely different from the miniature plants I first pulled from the pillow-packs. Fluffed out and pretty, they had leaves fully unfurled and an overall rounded-out form. I took this to mean they were liking their new home. And I was liking them.

Mimosa pudica goes by several common names, but the one I prefer is Sensitive Plant. This refers to the specimen’s sensitivity to movement and touch. Mimosa pudica’s display of sensitivity is caused by the water pressure in its leaves’ cell structure changing in response to internal reactions caused by shaking or touch. The leaves also close in the dark of night. At night or when disturbed, the leaves fold inward, as if to hide the plant for protection: “Go away. No miniature plants here….”

In peace, the leaves on my miniature plants opened up. That is when the experimenting began. Children love touching Mimosa pudica. Doing so provides an immediate lesson in the fact that miniature plants and larger specimens are affected by touch. And needless to say, when it came to this plant, everyone in my household became a child, giving Mimosa pudica more attention than even our cats receive. (I have included a video clip here. Rest assured, no miniature plants were harmed in its making.) We brushed a leaf; children poked a leaf; we shook a container. The opened leaves went from being on relaxed display to being tucked away in self-protective mode.

I have read that Mimosa pudica’s leaf segments fold two-by-two, but I have not witnessed that yet. To my eye, the folding happens more wholescale. But believe me, I will continue to test things out to see…. I cannot resist. And I look forward to seeing a pinkish flower on each of these miniature plants—like a pom-pom emerging from the fernlike fluff of the opened leaves. And yet, I know that will come only with time and under the right conditions.

In thinking about growing conditions, I will put aside that I have learned that these miniature plants are drought tolerant in the warm wild. In my indoor containers, I will do well to keep Mimosa pudica evenly moist so that the leaves on these miniature plants do not dry up. Still, I will be thankful for their forgiving nature if my watering goes a little off-schedule.

Novel… yes. Pretty.. yes. Magnetic… yes. Mimosa pudica is a fun addition to a home. But maintain social distance if you want to see its leaves opened in full glory. Maybe when it gets to know you better, then you can give it a playful poke. 



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