When the name "mimosa" comes up between gardeners, especially in the U.S. Southeast, two plants quickly come to mind: the mimosa tree (Albizia julibrissin), also known as silk tree, and ground cover mimosa, also called powderpuff (Mimosa strigillosa). Although these plants differ nearly 40 feet in height, they share feathery, fernlike foliage and puffy, pink blooms as well as care requirements. The similarities are no surprise. Mimosa tree and powderpuff come from the same plant family, Fabaceae, the legume family.
Promoting Sunny Blooms
A powderpuff and a mimosa tree need a site with at least six to eight hours of direct daily sunlight. They tolerate dappled or partial shade, but more sunlight exposure translates to more flowers on them both. Hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8b through 11, powderpuff features foliage that responds to sunlight, too. When powderpuff is grown in a sunny site, its pealike leaves average 3 1/2 inches long, but the leaves of a shade-grown plant measure triple that length. Hardy in USDA zone 6 through 9, mimosa tree's airy leaves, which can grow 20 inches long, are loaded with similar tiny leaflets. Both plants close their foliage at night and in response to touch. Powderpuff's other common names, sunshine mimosa and sensitive plant, come from this trait.
Meeting Cultural Needs
Start a powderpuff and mimosa tree with rich, light soil and even moisture for quick growth. Once established, they tolerate drought and rarely need supplemental water. Both adapt to wide-ranging soils, from sand to clay, and from acidic to alkaline; they even flourish in poor soil. Like most members of the legume family, powderpuff and the mimosa tree enhance soil fertility by adding nitrogen to it. The beneficial relationship between their legume roots and nitrogen-fixing bacteria makes additional fertilizer unnecessary. For richer, greener leaves on both plants, give them consistent soil moisture.
Containing Eager Growth
Mat-forming powderpuff spreads by rhizomes with long taproots at the nodes. Provide this U.S. native with boundaries, such as sidewalks, to keep it contained. Powderpuff spreads rapidly but isn't aggressive. It tolerates foot traffic and can be grown -- and mowed -- with turfgrass. The plant's small, flattened seedpods release seeds in fall, but they generally stay put.
Mimosa tree has become invasive in many parts of the country. An Asian native, the popular ornamental often escapes cultivation and threatens native plants. Its flat, 7-inch-long, beanlike seedpods bear abundant seeds that spread liberally and germinate easily. Rake and dispose of seedpod litter to prevent unwanted seedlings.
Recognizing Mimosa Disease
Powderpuff is well-suited to the rigors of its native environment. It has no serious pests or diseases. Mimosa tree doesn't fare as well. The most serious problem affecting this short-lived tree is mimosa vascular wilt. The fast-moving, soil-borne fungal disease shuts down the tree's vascular system. It enters through wounds and neighboring roots or targets a weakened tree. An affected tree's leaves yellow in early summer, and then entire branches or sections of the tree wilt from the fatal disease. Regular watering helps alleviate symptoms, but no effective or practical treatment exists. Some affected trees die within weeks, and few live beyond one year. Consider removing an infected tree before it spreads the disease.
- University of Florida IFAS Extension, Lee County: Mimosa Strigillosa
- Institute for Regional Conservation: Natives for Your Neighborhood -- Powderpuff
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Albizia Julibrissin
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: Albizia Julibrissin, Mimosa
- New Mexico State University: Mimosa Vascular Wilt
- Photo Credit dolnikow/iStock/Getty Images
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