How to Grow and Care for Sensitive Plant

mimosa pudica

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Native to the tropics of Central and South America, Mimosa pudica is a species of creeping herb or shrub that is commonly called the sensitive plant for its intriguing leaf movement when touched. Tiny hairs line the leaves of a sensitive plant. These hairs are highly responsive to touch, temperature, and motion, folding inwards when triggered. 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 have 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. They have a very fast growth rate.

While it is most commonly grown indoors as a houseplant, Mimosa pudica can be grown outdoors in warmer areas but beware since the sensitive plant can naturalize easily, especially in tropical climates. It prefers a temperature of 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Move this plant indoors when temperatures are much hotter or dip.

Common Name Sensitive plant, sleepy plant, action plant, touch-me-not plant, dormilones, zombie plant, shy lady, shy plant
Botanical Name Mimosa pudica
Family Fabaceae
Plant Type Creeping herbaceous shrub, perennial
Mature Size 18 in. tall
Sun Exposure Full, partial
Soil Type Well-draining, loamy
Soil pH Acidic to neutral (5.0-7.5)
Bloom Time Summer
Flower Color Purple, pink
Hardiness Zones 9–11, USA
Native Area South America, Central America
Toxicity Toxic to people, toxic to pets

Sensitive Plant Care

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. Its delicate foliage and the movement of its leaves are some of the most attractive qualities. Unlike the venus fly trap, the sensitive plant closes its leaves in self-defense; it is not carnivorous.

Besides its visually alluring characteristics, the sensitive plant has practical uses as well. For example, it has excellent soil-purifying qualities and has antibacterial and antioxidant properties. Botanists also continue to study the sensitive plant extensively to better understand plant habits.

Several pests 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.

Warning

Mimosa pudica is invasive in tropical climates. Use caution when planting outdoors as it can spread quickly and naturalize readily.

mimosa pudica

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

mimosa pudica leaves

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Mimosa pudica (sensitive plant) in bloom.
aLittleSilhouetto / Getty Images

Light

Sensitive plants are not shade-tolerant plants. They require at least eight hours of daylight and can tolerate full sun to partial shade. Place the plant directly in front or beside a bright sunny window. If the leaflets remain closed during the day, it indicates that the plant is not receiving enough light. 

Soil

Well-draining, loamy soil is ideal for a sensitive plant; its roots cannot survive in severely compacted soil. Enhance the soil with peat moss to improve drainage. In its natural environment, the sensitive plant lives in soils that are low in nutrients. Therefore, it does not require overly rich soil or frequent soil top-ups to survive.

Water

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 temperatures of about 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit are 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 to 11, 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, add a humidifier close by or place the sensitive plant pot on top of a tray of pebbles filled with water.

Fertilizer

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.

Pruning

Prune a sensitive plant regularly to keep it full, bushy, and prevent it from becoming leggy. You can prune a sensitive plant any time of the year. Since Mimosa pudica is a creeping plant, trim off trailing stems or train them to climb a trellis to keep the plant looking nice.

Propagating the Sensitive Plant

Propagation is generally by seed or stem cuttings. First, cut a branch with one leaf node and plant it in peat moss and perlite planting medium. Place it in a warm, bright spot, cover it with clear plastic in one to four weeks. Similarly, plant a seed in the same conditions. The seed should germinate in one to four weeks.

How to Grow Sensitive Plants From Seed

Propagating sensitive plants by seed is the most reliable way to grow new plants. However, the seeds need a little encouragement 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.

Potting and Repotting the Sensitive Plant

Sensitive plants grow fast and require multiple repottings if they outgrow their pot. When you notice the roots poking out of the drainage holes, it’s time to transplant the plant. It's natural to see leaves drooping after repotting; give it some time, the plant will bounce back. If, after blooming, the plant deteriorates to a point where it’s no longer salvageable, save the seeds, discard the plant, and plant it again.

Overwintering

Sensitive plants are considered perennial, but indoors, they deteriorate after blooming. Since they’re easily propagated from seed, save the pods, germinate them, and enjoy a new plant. However, if kept outdoors in colder temperatures, the plant will die back, enter dormancy, and usually returns in the spring.