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Weekly “What is it?”: Mimosa Tree

The interesting mimosa flower is attractive to pollinators, but the tree is considered a nuisance and invasive. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

My posts often reflect on childhood memories in the outdoors, and few plants take me back to my younger days like the mimosa tree (yes, I know, it’s an invasive species and no one needs to plant them, but we didn’t know that when we were 7). My best friend lived next door, and her architect dad built a playhouse in the backyard, complete with mailbox. We spent hours and hours in our open-air hideout, surrounded by vegetation and with a tin roof to keep off the sun and rain. One of our pastimes was of course playing “house.” Our pretend play mealtimes usually included gathering “food” from the backyard. The meals inevitably included “fish” not from the nearby pond, but instead plucked from the mimosa tree within reach.

The opposite leaves on the mimosa were a great stand-in for pretend fish bones. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

We would “clean” the fish by holding the leaflet by the midrib and satisfyingly running both fingers on either side of it, dropping off the little leaves like green confetti. If you look closely, the mimosa leaflet really does favor fish bones hanging from the tree.

The green-bean-like mimosa seed pod is prolific in the wild. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

In reality, the mimosa (Albizia julibrissin) was an import in the 1700’s from China as a landscape tree. It was considered desirable for its large fern-like leaves and colorful pink blooms. The blooms have a lovely scent and attract birds and butterflies. However, the plant’s seed pods have escaped and taken root in millions of yards, running rampant through forested areas, roadsides, and wetlands. It is considered an invasive species and is not sold by reputable nurseries. If you are a fan of the showy pink blooms but would like to replace a mimosa with a similar plant, the University of Florida recommends Sweet acacia, Acacia farnesiana, Bottlebrush (Callistemon spp.) or dwarf powderpuff (Calliandra spp).