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Summer Chocolate Mimosa Tree

Felder Rushing

Donuts on Cake

I love and actually plant mimosa trees. There, I admitted it, exposing myself to be both endearing and loathed.

I long ago stopped trying to appease the “you can’t grow that here” naysayers, who believe if you want to plant something that has the propensity to spread and take over, gotta stick with natives. But I figure that in these days of so many over-polarized topics I can sneak this fairly mild one by the non-native plant vigilantes.

Sure, as with quite a few other plants that are both revered and despised (overplanted azaleas and wall-to-wall lawns, anyone?), there are pros and cons with mimosa. Though I was raised happily playing underneath and climbing the pair on each side of my grandmother’s front walk, when I was in horticulture classes at MSU I learned a handful of good reasons to avoid putting or leaving them in landscapes. Went from loving to railing against them, and am happily back to being more tolerant and appreciative. I have even grown the gorgeous, deep burgundy-foliage one named ‘Summer Chocolate’.

Mimosa, also known as Persian silk tree (with the deliciously pronounced Latin name Albizia julibrissen), is a gloriously exotic Dr. Seuss-looking tree with long, smooth limbs swathed with ferny foliage and topped with intensely aromatic pink puffball flowers (which I once heard are actually flamingo larvae). And it happens to be one of my best hummingbird and summer pollinator magnets.

Introduced to American gardens in the 1780s by French botanist Andre Michaux, who also planted our first camellias and crape myrtles, mimosa quickly became a popular fast growing small tree. However, though there are some magnificent specimen scattered here and there, because of their very soft wood and susceptibility to fungal diseases, making it a generally fairly short lived. This is one of the worst issues with landscapers, along with how the ethereal flowers turn into brown globs sticking to whatever they fall on.

As both good and bad luck would have it, it super easy to grow from seed dispersed from long, thin, papery bean pods, which is where its problems begin with ecologists; it tends to spread. Everywhere. You can see the “early succession” trees colonizing woodland edges, and those of us who grow it for its beauty and nostalgia have it popping up erratically in flower beds and even potted plants left outdoors.

And I do agree that it can temporarily crowd out slower growing plants, including natives; however, in the wild its thin growth and weak wood usually means it in turn gets taken over and shaded out by sturdier, denser trees. Meanwhile it is still a major source of nectar for bees and hummingbirds. And a superb climbing tree for grandkids.

Here’s how I keep it from spreading around my neighborhood, at least from the trees in my garden: taking advantage of how quickly and strongly it sprouts back out after being cut down to the ground, instead of leaving them as trees I treat mine as giant summer ferns. Soon as they finish flowering, before they set seeds, I cut the long, limber stems nearly to the ground, using the trimmings to line my “dead hedge” row of limbs, branches, leaves, and other garden debris to create a crucial habitat for native bees, lightning bugs, and other urban wildlife. They shoot back up and look like towering ferns which flower the next late spring and summer before being pruned again. Best of both worlds.

Takes me less time once a year to manage mimosa than my neighbors spend mowing the lawn just one time. Plus I have hummingbirds.

Donuts on Cake
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