The History of the Mimosa Plant

Overview

Albizia julibrissin, known as the silk or mimosa tree, is native to Asia from Iran to Japan. Most often grown as an ornamental, the tree can reach between 20 and 40 feet in height, with fragrant pink, pom-pomlike flowers and pinnate leaves that appear almost fernlike. The flowers generally appear between May and July and are followed by the flat seed pods that are typical of legumes. Albizia is a member of the Leguminosae or bean family, related to acacia and black locust. Because of the similarity between the common name of the mimosa tree, Albizia julibrissin and another Leguminosaea genus, mimosa, confusion sometimes arises.

Western Introduction

The genus Albizia was first described by botanist Antonio Durazzini in the 18th century, though it had been grown in its native Asia for centuries. It was named in honor of Filippo degli Albizia, a nobleman, who introduced the plant into the Italian region of Tuscany in 1749. From there, its popularity spread in Europe.

American Introduction

The tree came to America with early colonists and was introduced in this country in 1745. It may have been offered for sale originally in 1807. Thomas Jefferson mentioned the tree in 1805 and planted Albizia seeds at Monticello in 1809. Mimosa became popular in the Southeastern United States, but has spread much farther to states as far north as Illinois and as far west as California.

Traditional Uses and Meanings

Mimosa leaves have served as animal fodder and, though somewhat brittle, the wood of the mimosa has historically been used in making furniture. In China, the bark is traditionally harvested, dried and used in the preparation of tonics and sedatives. In the "language of flowers," a tradition that reached its height in Victorian times and assigns meanings and sentiments to various flowers, the related species, Mimosa pudica or sensitive plant, signifies the quality of sensitivity, shyness and modesty.

Landscape Uses

From the dates of its introductions in Europe and America until the present day, Albizia julibrissin has been used as an ornamental specimen tree. In some cases it has become naturalized in specific areas and often appears in disturbed (by natural or man-made occurrences) areas.

Considerations

Because of its vigorous nature and the fact that the seed can remain viable for a long time, mimosa is considered invasive in some locations, including Florida. Many sources recommend seeking alternative landscape specimens.

Keywords: mimosa tree history, Albizia julibrissin history, silk tree history

About this Author

Elisabeth Ginsburg, a writer with twenty years' experience, earned an M.A. from Northwestern University and has done advanced study in horticulture at the New York Botanical Garden. Her work has been published in the "New York Times," "Christian Science Monitor," "Horticulture Magazine" and other national and regional publications.