Native to the tropics of Central and South America, Mimosa pudica is a species of creeping herb or shrub that is commonly referred to as the “sensitive plant” due to the intriguing movement of its leaves. Tiny hairs line the leaves of a sensitive plant, and these hairs are extremely responsive to touch, temperature, and motion. At the slightest touch, the small leaflets of a sensitive plant will fold inwards. This response to stimulation is a part of the sensitive plant’s natural defense mechanism.
Sensitive plants make great houseplants and are generally low-maintenance. They are characterized by delicate, fern-like leaves and light purple flowers that resemble small pom-poms. Young plants grow upwards, but over time develop more of a creeping habit.
Besides its visually alluring characteristics, the sensitive plant has practical uses as well. It has proven to have excellent soil-purifying qualities and has antibacterial and antioxidant properties. The sensitive plant has also been studied extensively by botanists interested in plant habituation and habitual learning.
|Botanical Name||Mimosa pudica|
|Common Name||Sensitive plant, shameplant, sleepy plant, action plant, touch-me-not plant, Dormilones, zombie plant, shy lady, shy plant.|
|Plant Type||Creeping annual herb|
|Mature Size||18" tall|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun - part shade|
|Soil Type||Well-draining, loamy soil|
|Soil pH||5 - 7.5|
|Flower Color||Purple, pink|
|Native Area||South America, Central America|
How to Grow Sensitive Plants
Sensitive plant (Mimosa pudica) is an easy-to-care-for, flowering plant in the pea/legume family Fabaceae. With plenty of light and lots of water, even an amateur houseplant hobbyist can enjoy the sensitive plant in their home too.
Its delicate foliage and the movement of its leaves are some of the most attractive aspects of the sensitive plant. Unlike the venus fly trap, the sensitive plant closes its leaves in self-defense and is not carnivorous.
While it is most commonly grown indoors as a houseplant, Mimosa pudica can be grown outdoors in warmer areas, but it should be done with caution. The sensitive plant can naturalize easily especially in tropical climates. Learn how to grow the sensitive plant indoors as a houseplant below.
Mimosa pudica is defined as invasive in some areas, especially tropical climates. Use caution when planting outdoors as it can spread quickly and naturalize readily.
Sensitive plants are not shade-tolerant plants. They require at least 8 hours of daylight and can tolerate full sun to partial shade. Directly in front or beside a bright sunny window is a perfect location for sensitive plants. Leaflets remaining closed during the day is an indication that sensitive plants are not receiving enough light.
Well-draining, loamy soil is ideal for a sensitive plant as its roots cannot survive in severely compacted soil. Enhancing the soil with peat moss to improve drainage is a great option if you are concerned about this. In its natural environment, the sensitive plant is found in soils that are low in nutrients, so it does not require overly rich soil or frequent soil top-ups in order to survive.
Keep the soil consistently moist for a sensitive plant, but not waterlogged. The sensitive plant cannot handle ‘wet feet’ and will develop root rot if left sitting in excess water. As a general rule, water a sensitive plant once the top of the soil begins to dry out.
Temperature and Humidity
Due to its light and temperature requirements, the sensitive plant is most often grown indoors as a houseplant. Average room temperature, about 65 - 75 degrees Fahrenheit, is perfect for a sensitive plant as it is not tolerant of extreme heat or chilly temperatures. It can be successfully grown outdoors in USDA zones 9-11 if desired, although it may spread aggressively and become weedy.
The sensitive plant enjoys moderate to high humidity. Unless your house is particularly dry, the average household humidity should be sufficient for a sensitive plant. Otherwise, adding a humidifier close by or placing the pot of the sensitive plant on top of a tray of pebbles filled with water can help.
Sensitive plants occur naturally in nutrient-poor soil, so fertilization is generally not required. However, if desired you can give the plant an extra boost during the growing season by applying a high-potassium liquid fertilizer diluted to half strength every few weeks. Always ensure that you water a sensitive plant before fertilizing it to avoid burning the delicate roots.
Toxicity of Sensitive Plants (Mimosa pudica)
Sensitive plants have been shown to be mildly toxic to some animals, however, the toxins are present in very low concentrations. The reflexive movement of the leaves may make these plants especially appealing to curious animals so if you have pets it is recommended that you keep this plant safely out of reach.
Growing from Seeds
Propagating sensitive plants by seed is the most reliable way to grow new plants. However, the seeds need a little encouragement in order to germinate. Nick the tough exterior of the seeds with a sharp knife to improve germination success. Afterward, place the seeds in a well-draining potting medium and moisten. Cover the seeds with a small amount of soil and place the pot in a bright, warm location. Mimosa pudica seeds take about a week to germinate.
There are several pests that are common to sensitive plants. These include spider mites and mimosa webworms, both of which wrap the leaves of the sensitive plant in webs that hinder their responsive closing. Sensitive plants are also susceptible to other common houseplant pests such as mealybugs and thrips. Fortunately, sensitive plants are not especially prone to any diseases.