I think it’d be pretty hard to drive around southwest Mississippi in early June and not see a Mimosa tree. Each month seems to have its own distinctive flora, and in June, the peachy pink filamentous flowers are distinctive and the striking bipennate leaflets make the tree look like some sort of giant, prehistoric fern.
Our common name for this tree, Mimosa, is actually a misnomer. This species is not part of the clade, or subfamily of pea plants called Mimoseae. It is actually Albizia julibrissin – the Persian silk tree. Silk trees are so intensely phototropic (light-sensitive) that its leaflets droop or wilt at night and spring back out in the daytime, giving the plant the common name Sleeping tree in many parts of the world.
But around here everybody knows what you’re talking about when you say, Mimosa tree – so I guess that name is as good as any.
Indigenous to Persia (Iran) and southern Asia, the Mimosa was introduced to the United States as an ornamental, where it took off. Now it is naturalized in the eastern and southeastern United States and is even considered invasive in some places.
If you are going to cultivate Mimosas deliberately as ornamental you might want to keep them away from walkways, driveways, and the more highly-trafficked areas of your yard because when they are finished blooming they drop their flowers, creating a slimy mess under the trees. They are also susceptible to a fusarium wilt that can kill the tree and a bacterial wetwood infection that creates weeping lesions that ooze a fermented-smelling flux.
Despite these constitutional weaknesses, Mimosa thrives around here on the edges of pastures and on fence lines in the partial shade and protection of other, taller trees. It is said that Mimosas can grow as tall as 50 feet, though most specimens will be much smaller.
If you want to to see some of the largest and most beautiful Mimosas that I’ve seen around here, travel down Quinlivan road from the Fernwood airport toward South Pike High School and the spreads of peach-colored flowers peeking out from the trees will alert you to the presence of some really large Mimosas on either side of the road.
I counted a dozen large Mimosas in that 3-mile stretch of road, and if you estimate that the mature pines alongside Quinlivan are 60-80 feet tall then some of these Mimosas must be approaching 40 feet tall.
Originally published in Enterprise-Journal Newspaper