Mimosa — The Wonderful, Awful Weed

June 29, 2009 | By | Comments (170)

When anyone asks me what’s the best time to prune a mimosa, my instinctive response is, “Any time you can find a chainsaw.”

That’s very judgmental of me, I know, but heck, that’s pretty much my job. And mimosa is one of those plants you either love or you hate. I hate it now. But I used to love it.

Mimosa

Why, when I was a kid, at the nadir of sensibility and good taste, I thought mimosa (Albizia julibrissin) was the prettiest tree in the world. Its leaves were like ferns. Its flowers were pink puffballs. And it bloomed in summer, when few other trees did.

A Miracle — My Wife Agrees!

Judy, who notices very few plants,  has fond childhood memories of mimosa too. She remembers climbing up in her neighbors trees to smell the flowers. I think they smell faintly of gardenias — not like my son’s socks, which would actually cause you to faint.

How It all Began

PM1Native to the Middle East and Asia, mimosa was brought to this country in 1785 by the famous French botanist Andre Michaux, who planted it in his botanic garden in Charleston, South Carolina. It grew quickly into a vase-shaped, flat-topped tree, 30 to 40 feet tall, and it loved the Southern climate. The flowers, attractive to butterflies, hummingbirds, and colonial gardeners, ranged in color from nearly red to deep pink to flesh-pink to white. On one road-side near my home, there is a row of them, each a different color. Here’s the usual pink.

WM1And here’s a white one. I really like the white, but I’ve never seen it for sale. The various colors are due to genetic variation, with pink being dominant. Where I live in Alabama, the trees usually start blooming in June and continue for several weeks into July.

So Why Do I Hate Mimosa Now?

Two reasons, First, like most all fast-growing trees, mimosa is notoriously short-lived, subject to many pests, and will die on you in a heartbeat. When people ask me the best way to get rid of a mimosa, I tell them to make it the focal point of their landscape and it will be gone momentarily.

Second, after the flowers fade, the tree grows hundreds of 6-inch long, bean-like, brown seedpods which hang from every branch. The seedpods persist all winter, even after the tree has dropped its leaves. Few trees look as ugly or more forlorn.

But wait! It gets worse! Each of those pods is filled with seeds and each and every one of them germinates somewhere, even in cracks in the pavement. Plant one mimosa in the yard and soon every house in the neighborhood has two or three mimosas. coming up in the fence, the middle of a bush, or by the silver propane tank.

Mimosa adapts to almost any well-drained soil, laughs at heat and drought, and does not mind if you spray-paint the trunk white, hang tires from the branches, or park your pickup on top of its roots. In hort class, we called it a “pioneer species,” because if you disturb the land, remove native vegetation, and open the tree canopy to light, it’s one of the first trees to appear. That’s why you see it growing along just about every highway and country road in the South. Northerners be glad it doesn’t like your cold winters, but with global warming, who knows how much longer you’ll be free?

Not Fooling Me

Recently, a new kind of mimosa was introduced to the gardening world, a purplish-bronze leaf selection called ‘Summer Chocolate.’ The hype over its undeniably pretty foliage and pink flowers was overwhelming. Probably many of you bought one and are enjoying it right now. But not me.

See, any mimosa that flowers is going to produce seeds and lots of them. And if a thousand seedlings come up in my yard, I don’t care if they have green leaves or purple leaves. They need to be eliminated with extreme prejudice.

So my advice about when to prune a mimosa remains the same — whenever you can find a chainsaw.

COMMENTS

  1. D. Bruning

    I bought a house from an elderly couple with a hugely overgrown neglected garden that included a massive stand of bamboo, a very large rhododendron (8ft bush), and a very huge mature maple tree, and a few hemlocks all tangled in together. There was a mess of ivy and vines attacking the trees. In the process of removing the bamboo, ivy and a crazy massive vine we lost the rhododendron. The maple and hemlock roots are mostly free of ivy and bamboo. A few rhododendron shoots and a mimosa shoot have sprouted very close the large surface maple roots.
    Are these small shoot easily transplanted at this stage (1ft Rhod, 2ft mimosa). I hesitate to ask about the mimosa but we now have a large area to replant after removing the massive bamboo stand. I have zero skills in this….

    August 25, 2016 at 12:13 pm
  2. Steve Bender

    Lex,
    Well, you got what you paid for.

    August 18, 2016 at 1:44 pm
  3. Lex

    I didn’t get any help from this

    August 16, 2016 at 1:16 pm
  4. Patricia Copeland

    Hi G.G. I just read your article about the mimosa tree. I was actually trying to identify it by comparison to a locust. We live in Southeast Missouri and my husband has done every thing to try to kill this tree and nothing has worked. It is located between the gravel road and our yard and we don’t want it period. Do you or your readers have any suggestions about how to euthanize this thing. It keeps coming up from the roots.

    August 8, 2016 at 11:55 am
  5. don palmer

    We have a pool surrounded by thousands of Mexican petunias, a half dozen different colored crepe myrtles that are up to 30ft tall, a bunch of different colored native hibiscus and gardens of milk weed for the butterflies and so on and so on. My grandkids call it the Jungle.
    Last year this green stick showed up by the pool pump. My wife said “cut that weed down”
    Well, I didn’t. Now this thing is 7ft tall with a 5ft canopy. My wife still says “cut it down”
    I told my wife it looks like a Mimosa. She says “no it doesn’t”.
    Now the interesting part. My wife works for the #4 rated zoo in the U.S. I take our granddaughter to camp there. Its a beautiful and lush place packed with large trees.
    Walking by the camp area there a 40ft.tree with the same leaf pattern of my “stick” and it has flowers all over it. A Mimosa!!

    August 8, 2016 at 11:35 am
  6. Arthur Hau

    Everything is a mess, so don’t grow anything and live in a desert. Camellia is a big mess when they drop their massive flowers. But dropping leaves and flowers is a natural self-protection for all trees and shrubs against weeds. They just cover their own ground. People nowadays want to have a “clean” but unhealthy lawn. Back in the old days, gardens are full of trees, shrubs, vegetables, weeds, … No one seemed to care and all gardens were more eco friendly and healthy. Everything is a weed, including humans. So, get rid of humans too.

    August 3, 2016 at 6:58 pm
  7. TIMMY KILLIAN

    I have a I think a formossa in my backyard for about 40yrs. It never failed no to grow or bloom. I have to prune it back or it will grow high!It’s the only one in the whole area and everybody loves it. It was my wife’s most favorite tree. Our Pennsylvania winters dont affect it and loves our summers. This tree seems to do the opposite of what you discribed. Purplish flowers with about 4-5in. Dark green leaves that seem to move when you touch them, but they do fold when it gets dark and cool outside. Thats obout all I can tell ya. But im glad this one tree I really love. Take care, Timmy Killian

    August 2, 2016 at 4:13 pm
  8. Steve Bender

    Bob,
    I agree that Southern magnolia is a very messy tree and would not want a big one in my yard.

    LaRee,
    Your mimosa will survive the pruning. But be prepared for it to grow back very fast!

    August 1, 2016 at 3:00 pm
  9. Bob

    I have 3 in my backyard. They are great for shade and smell great in late spring and early summer. The “mess” that people complain of is not what they make it sound like. They can be invasive if you let them but I have to spray weeds anyway, so I just get the young ones when I do and they are also easy to pull when they are young. Now, if you want to talk about a mess maker, lets talk about the Magnolia instead. Magnolias truly make a mess 12 months out of the year!! They shed their leaves in the spring instead of the fall, and I mean shed! Once they bloom, those make a mess. Then later, cones fall from the tree and you better rake them or pick them up or else the lawn mower just divides them. And last but not least, sticks fall from it all year! My wife is a northerner and just loves this tree since they don’t have them up there, so I am stuck with it. If Mimosas are bad, Magnolias are horrible! Oh, and what about these great southern pines? Messy!! Guess it is all relative but I will take a Mimosa over a Magnolia, Pine(straw, cones, SAP!!), Pecan, Oak(leaves, acorns, roots from hell)…….You get the idea!

    July 30, 2016 at 8:57 am
  10. LaRee

    Our 40 year old Minosa is 40′-50′ tall and about 40-50′ across. Yes, it is very beautiful, but it is a very messy tree. Here in the Willamette Valley, Oregon, it leafs out in late May or early June; flowers in July and starts dropping flowers almost immediately for the rest of summer. Early fall it’s fronds start falling, and then the dried remaining hangers-on finish littering in winter rain or wind. My deck is littered with “Minosa mess” all the time
    .
    I want to cut the tree down! But 13 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren vote no to cutting this tree they swung from, rope ladder climbed and zip-lined from. To keep everyone happy I would like to cut all branches off tree except for two that have a couple very low new side branches. Those branches would be about 15′ and 18′ tall. Would the tree live?

    July 28, 2016 at 7:57 pm
  11. machop

    Enjoyed your article! Mimosas are definitely trees you either love or hate. They are beautiful and smell faintly of fresh peaches to me. Being a NC southener and growing up with one I wanted one for my yard. I planted one in late November 26 years ago as a single branchless 4 foot tall stalk that I had pulled up from a roadside stand of mimosas. She survived. She is 25 to 30 feet tall and 20 feet across. She is gorgeous. We have enjoyed her but it is time for her to go. Her two main trunks are splitting so better to take her out than let her fall on a car. We are cutting her at her peak blooming time rather than have seed pods this year. And we are taking out her youngsters by the air conditioning unit as well. She is being replaced with a purple/pink Crape Myrtle.

    July 24, 2016 at 12:31 am
  12. Teresa amos

    Well I was going to plant a mimosa but I’m now going to the nursery instead

    July 23, 2016 at 6:50 pm
  13. Steven W Robinson

    Hello Steve! Loved your story! I didn’t take the opportunity to look at all 152 comments, but has anyone noticed that the tree seems to be a haven for mosquito’s? It is here in my yard in Springfield Illinois.

    July 18, 2016 at 9:20 am
  14. Fredito

    I drive by a large, gorgeous mimosa tree next to the interstate. Also grew up w one as a child that I loved. Anyone who hates this tree is not a true lover of plants.

    July 12, 2016 at 9:28 pm
  15. Steve Bender

    Becky,
    There is hope. The branch is not sterile. It’s probably just busy growing roots right now.

    July 11, 2016 at 6:08 am
  16. Becky

    I love Mimosa trees and blossoms! They let off a sweet, mildly pungent aroma in the evening in the same “aroma family” as gardenias and magnolias, to me, but much more subtle.They also delight children when they smell them and the pink puffs tickle their noses. Unfortunately, the aroma turns down right stinky once you pick the pink puffs and put them in a vase. You know,” the grass withers, the flower fades…”
    Here’s my dilemma; the neighbor cut their Mimosa down- which I loved to smell on my daily summer walks, so I grabbed a branch before it was hauled off, stuck it in my yard and it grew! However, after 3 years it has not produced any blossoms. It’s rather Biblical that, having produced no fruit, I should lay it flat with an axe, right? Is my Mimosa “branch” tree sterile? Will it ever produce blossoms? Does this mean I’ll have to move back to Alabama to enjoy pink puffy blossoms again? Give me hope!

    July 9, 2016 at 9:05 am
  17. Pam

    If you don’t recommend mimosa as a hardy flowering tree, do you have a recommendation for a good choice.

    July 1, 2016 at 8:55 am
  18. Deb Hammis

    The tree that I thought was a Mimosa is actually a “Black Locust” and Also have two shagbark hickory tree seedlings one is one foot from the front of the house and will need to come out and must get the long taproot. Fun, Fun, Fun!🙂

    June 22, 2016 at 4:34 pm
  19. Grumpy Gardener

    Robin,

    Mimosa jelly is based on the drink of the same name and does not contain mimosa flowers.

    June 22, 2016 at 1:55 pm
  20. Robin

    I have had mimosa jelly. Do you happen to have a recipe using the blooms from the tree? I’ve searched the internet with no luck.

    June 19, 2016 at 7:42 pm

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