The Sensitive Plant -  Mimosa pudica

Mimosa pudica - The Sensitive Plant; Shy Plant; Sleep or Tickle Me Plant

There are many different varieties of Mimosa, some are annuals, others large trees or shrubs. The Sensitive plant - Mimosa pudica - is most often grown as a houseplant and it has feathery fronds which respond, when touched, by folding up. The leaflets re-open after about half an hour. The leaf fronds naturally close up at night – hence its name of the ‘Sleep Plant.

The flowers resemble tiny pink baubles, and the shrub is treated as an annual, its straggly growth habit rarely exceeds 60cm tall. As well as being low growing, the sensitive plants has a spreading habit in the wild, and this would lend itself to being grown in a wide pan rather than the normal pot in which it is sold and produced.

Mimosa pudica - The sensitive plant

The Flowers of the Sensitive Plant -  Mimosa pudica

Habitat of Mimosa pudica

Its native habitat is now most parts of Asia, after spreading from the tropical North and South American areas. It is often a troublesome weed in areas which grow coconuts, sweet corn and pineapples. It is particularly nasty in the stems are prickly with savage thorns along the stems, so a little bit of a menace for hand weeding.

Dry stony areas and scrublands seem to be the natural liking – often colonizing large areas to the exclusion of all but the most stubborn grasses and shrubs.

As a houseplant, it is normally just the foliage that collapses upon touch, however as an invasive ‘weed’ in the tropics, the whole plant collapses upon touch or disturbance.  This and its thorny stems, are probably first line of defence, against grazing and other vegetarian wildlife.

Care of Mimosa pudica Indoors.

 Its Needs:

  • A warm winter temperature not lower than 16C is important. They are not particularly easy to keep through the winter, but can easily be started from saved or bought seed early spring in a warm propagator. Some misting of the leaves will help maintain humidity, and though it is happy in dry stony places in the tropics, humidity is normally higher than can be attained indoors.
  • Good light is important but avoid direct sun though windows in mid-summer. Shady corners of the living room are not its favourite habitat.
  • Water and feed regularly through the growing season, use rainwater if possible, water sparingly during winter. The Mimosa can be re-potted in spring but it is more common to raise new plants from seed. The flowers are a little hit or miss! Feed with high potash feed such as general Tomato Feed for best results.

The Shy Plant, as otherwise known, is an attractive foliage plant, which people will not be able to resist touching once they know it is touch sensitive. The ‘shy’ plant is derived from its name of Mimosa pudica, with the Latin ‘pudica’ part of the name meaning shy, shyness or sensitivity. It is also known as the ‘Tickle Me Plant’ for obvious reasons

Be aware that repeated touching, tickling or otherwise  'activating' the leaves can weaken the plant, so whilst it is good as a party feature, the sensitive plant should be treated as its name implies - Sensitively!

Medicinal Properties

There are several uses of Mimosa pudica in folk medicine, one of the most interesting being that an extract of the root system has been successfully used to negate the lethal properties of the venom several Cobra species.

One of the chemical that has been isolated has been found to have beneficial halting effects of the human threadworm parasites.

By David Hughes -