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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Mimosa Musings

Living in Alabama as a child during the 50s, I spent summers playing with friends, barefoot and outdoors. One of our favorite pastimes was playing house. We would find a large patch of bare ground, usually under a tall, shady tree, then we’d haul in sticks, stones, dead leaves and whatever else we could find to lay out the outline of rooms, leaving gaps to serve as doors. The daddy, when he wasn’t off at work, usually stayed in the living room, reading the large leaves that served as a newspaper. Few of us girls wanted to play the daddy, and it was next to impossible to get any of the boys to play with us, so we just pretended he was away at work or on a trip. The mother stayed in the kitchen, cooking and fussing at her "children." or primping in the bedroom or entertaining her friends in the dining room. We sat and slept on pine straw sofas and beds and swept the floor with branches. Sometimes we were lucky enough to build our houses around a big flat tree stump or large flat rock. This wonderful architectural feature would serve as a table upon which we served pretend meals on leaf plates. In late summer, a staple of these meals was a pile of English peas still in the pod. In actuality, the “peas” were pods from the mimosa trees that grew all around us. It never occurred to us to eat any of the food we served, which is a good thing, since mimosa seeds contain a neurotoxic alkaloid that can poison cattle, sheep and dogs who ingest it. Besides, none of us liked English peas anyway, and usually had to be forced to eat them at home. Which may be why we enjoyed playing with pretend peas and discarding them, uneaten, without being fussed at by mothers who instructed us to clean our plates if we expected to eat dessert.

I’m reminded of those childhood summers every time I look out the back door and see the huge mimosa growing in the woods behind our house. Its limbs arch almost 40 feet high and nearly as wide, overhanging our fence, filling the air with the fragrance of its fuzzy pink flowers, and dropping seeds that pop up everywhere. And that’s part of the problem. The mimosa (Albrizia julibrissin) is one of those trees people hate or love- sometimes both at the same time. I love to look at it, with its delicate ferny leaves and those fragrant fluffy pink blooms that attract hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. But I hate to pull the lebenty zillion little mimosa seedlings that pop up in the flowerbeds, veggie beds and a hundred other places they don’t belong. And when those pretty pink flowers turn brown, die, and are washed loose in a rain, they cling tenaciously and refuse to turn loose from whatever they land on, leaving ugly brown stringy wads on everything, including the chicken run fencing, the bush beans, the tomatoes, etc. Then there’s the fact that the mimosa is yet another of those imported species that has become invasive and is now threatening native flora.

It’s hard to drive past any open or wooded area along the roads and highways here without seeing mimosa trees. They seem to be everywhere, but the mimosa is not used as a landscape plant in the South as much now as it was during my childhood. One of the reasons it has fallen into disuse is that the mimosa is extremely susceptible to several diseases, including mimosa wilt, caused by the fungus Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. Perniciosum, a devastating disease that has almost eliminated mimosas in many areas. Once infected, a mimosa may die within six weeks. Perhaps this is a case of Mother Nature intervening to remove the threat to native species. Who knows? I don't know how long we'll have the mimosa as a neighbor before it succumbs to disease or is cut down by developers. In the meantime, we'll continue in our love/hate relationship. I'll enjoy its beauty and complain about its pestiness. I might even make a mimosa soap, I can see and smell it now....


Rurality said...

I have to admit that this is one of those invasives that I really like. (Hubby hates them.) They smell so good! Plus you can tickle people with the flowers. And like you noted, the seeds make good play food. (We always shelled ours though.) We had a Mimosa climbing tree as a kid, too.

If you find a good Mimosa FO that doesn't acceclerate trace like crazy, let me know!

roosterhen said...

Karen- I have a mimosa FO from FSS I'm planning to try this week-but I may try blending it with something else to get just the scent I'm looking for. The fragrance of mimosa is kind of elusive to my nose- like trying to find the perfect magnolia. I'm also going to try to soap it stone cold and see if that slows down trace any, because I'd really like to have a swirl in this one.

Twinville said...

I was just oohing and aaahing over a mimosa at the Rio Grande Bio Park Gardens yesterday.
It was so beautiful.
But with our sheep and other critters, we'd better never bring on here to our ranch. I had no idea they could be toxic to animals.

roosterhen said...

It's kind of disconcerting to discover that so many beautiful plants are also toxic. The chickens have never bothered with the mimosa, though- maybe they have a better instinct than sheep and cattle for what will or won't poison them.