Mimosa — The Wonderful, Awful Weed

June 29, 2009 | By | Comments (111)

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. Grant

    Leigh AND Steve, Roundup weedkiller is actually made by MONSANTO, I think you should do some research before ever using that stuff again. It causes cancers and all sorts of bad diseases to human health and plants and soil. You should leave nature alone and stick your roundup where it belongs. in your stupid ass! Thanks.

    Oh no the plants are overgrowing and trying to take back their home!! Good!! deal with it. Nature is much more important than the human species.

    July 27, 2014 at 11:08 pm
  2. Tom R. Smith

    I live in the Tehachapi area in California. We are up over 4000′, so though warm and dry in the summer we do get freezing temps and some snow in the winter months. With that in mind the mimosa tree has worked wonderfully for myself up here. I think because of the winter temps that can come and go all the way through May it has reduced the reproduction problems mentioned here. The amount of shade area you get with one tree is a wonderful thing and slows down the natural weeds that abound in the area that we must abate for the fire season. They never need any major pruning and their growth pattern naturally umbrellas out maximizing the shade value.

    July 20, 2014 at 7:14 pm
  3. What Kind of Tree is This?

    […] Yes, I was about to say.. it is a Mimosa Tree. They are very nice. They tore a huge one down to make way for Covell. I offered the city $3,500 to pay for someone to transplant it and put in the landscaping and they said they could not do that. They're beautiful trees and I saw a lot of them in Cancun. They are considered a weed in most tropical places from what I know, but I like them. I would have a few if I had some sunny spots in my yard. Mimosa tree | Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants Mimosa – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Mimosa ? The Wonderful, Awful Weed | Your Hub for Southern Culture […]

    July 5, 2014 at 1:02 pm
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    […] “Mimosa — The Wonderful, Awful Weed […]

    June 25, 2014 at 6:29 am
  5. Steve Bender

    Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I think mimosas are great when they bloom. The trouble comes when they drop all those seeds.

    May 17, 2013 at 9:27 am
  6. Lawrence Rowe

    I enjoyed the read. I can’t say I agree however because I am quite fond of our Mimosa. I live in South Florida, and there are very few that I have seen in Broward County. Ours is in full-bloom now and the fragrance is intense; personally I don’t get any hint of gardenia but rather maybe some spices one finds in a good wheat beer, like coriander. When the pods are hanging and the tree bare the right breeze or winds creates the perfect sound – like a subtle mariachi symphony that only the natural world could produce. My kids stand directly under it and close their eyes- it’s quite marvelous to hear. Lastly, our flowers are almost a whitish-yellow, if you can picture that. In full-bloom, after a sub-tropical downpour, the visual is stunning. Keep the chainsaw away…..but I appreciate your sentiments.

    L. Story Rowe

    May 12, 2013 at 10:01 pm
  7. Random Stuff From My Trip To Shreveport | Johnny Leckie | the next step

    [...] I saw a lot of Mimosa and Southern Magnolia [...]

    May 9, 2013 at 7:52 am
  8. Leigh Simmons Skellenger

    Roger that, thank you so much! I know this tree is a noxious weed in some areas, but we really love it here in Arizona. My husband and I would hate to lose it, and so would our resident birds.

    April 15, 2013 at 9:06 pm
  9. Steve Bender

    Leigh,
    Cracks in the trunk could be caused by severe cold. The best way to help your tree recover is with some TLC. Make sure it gets enough water and try applying some tree fertilizer according to label directions.

    April 15, 2013 at 12:02 pm
  10. Leigh

    I don’t think there’s enough Roundup in the entire world for all those ailanthus trees. Mercifully I don’t have any on my property, but should I find one I will take extreme measures to assassinate it.
    Any thoughts on helping out my existing mimosa tree? It’s only about fifteen years old but has a couple of shallow cracks, which I thought might have been due to our unusually cold and hard winter. Thanks.

    April 8, 2013 at 3:42 pm
  11. Steve Bender

    Leigh,

    Some trees are bigger pests in one area of the country than in others. Your arid climate is the reason mimosa doesn’t go wild there. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with ailanthus, which will grow through cracks in the pavement. The only solution to your problem I know is spraying the trees with Roundup.

    April 8, 2013 at 12:26 pm

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