By Les Harrison
Wakulla County Extension Director
It is easy to notice the display of bright pink puffs erupting on low-growing trees along Wakulla County’s roadside.
A closer look will reveal the attractive ferny foliage and delicately beautiful pink-and-white flowers which resemble shaving brushes.
This attractive plant is the Mimosa tree, Albizia julibrissin. These once-popular small trees are commonly found in the yards of older homes in Wakulla County where the display of prolific blooms starts up as the weather warms.
This species also happens to be classified as invasive which is native to southwest and eastern China, not Florida.
Because it was imported many years ago for its blooms, many Florida residents may not realize this tantalizing beauty is actually an aggressive invader in disguise.
In its wild native habitat these trees are frequently found in dry plains, sandy valleys, and uplands environments.
As an exotic it has spread from southern New York west to Missouri south to Texas. It is even considered an invasive species in Japan.
Worse yet, mimosas are guilty of hosting a fungal disease, Fusarian, which will negatively affect many ornamental and garden plants. Some palms as well as a variety of edibles including tomatoes, peppers, watermelon, and bananas will succumb to this pathogen.
While outwardly charming in appearance, this is a beauty and the beast combo tree with too many problems to compensate for its looks.
A plant is considered exotic when it is out of its native range. Invasive means it is capable of escaping into the wild with unchecked reproduction while crowding out the ornamentals and native plants which should be growing there.
For the homeowner this can mean extra weeding time and expense. In natural areas the invader will disrupt not only other plants, but also the birds, mammals, amphibians, and insects which depend on the displaced plants for food, shelter and habitat. Other negative traits include the disruption of water flow and aiding the incidence of wildfires.
Invasive species in yards and landscapes run the serious risk of disrupting the time-tested natural processes. Even if an invasive seems to be under control, there is always the chance of wind, water, birds, or other creatures are spreading parts of the plant which can reproduce.
The Mimosa tree is a typical example of this. In natural areas, mimosas tend to spread into dense clumps blocking the light to native plants which prevents them from growing. They are prominent along the edges of woods and wetland areas where seeds scatter easily and take advantage of sheltered, sunlit spots.
Mimosa tree seeds can stay viable for many years in the soil. These seeds will float without damage to their germination potential until they wash ashore to colonize a new site.
Additionally, Mimosa tree seeds are attractive to wildlife. One tree in a yard can infest many acres with the aid of birds and small mammals.
Cut or wind snapped trees quickly regrow from the stump, making this one invader is difficult to eradicate.
Fortunately, there are a variety of small trees which can replace the Mimosa tree in home landscapes. Many are attractive, but without the unrelenting need to populate the entire subdivision.