THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE BEAUTIFUL

This title phrase well describes my favorite tree, Albizia julibrissan, a tree which, to anthropomorphize, would appear to have multiple personalities. Many people at the northern end of its range in Hardiness Zone 6 where I live may not be familiar with it, but head south and you’ll find it fairly ubiquitous, along with people who either love it or hate it. Or love the good and the beautiful, but not the bad.

Befitting a tree with multiple personalities, this tree has not only gone through multiple taxonomic classifications, it also has plenty of common names – Mimosa tree, Persian silk tree, Chinese silk tree, Silky acacia tree and others. As to me it looks good enough to drink, I’ll call it the Mimosa. In any case, it was introduced to North America from Asia in the mid 18th century, and like visitors to your home, it has left many feeling that it has overstayed its welcome.

THE GOOD

Mimosa trees are a wildlife magnet. They are one of the few trees that flower over much of July and August. Bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds in particular can’t stay away. Hummingbirds are very aggressive little loners who don’t much care for each other, but because this tree draws them in aplenty, I get the benefit of being able to watch all their aggressive, defensive, and I presume, mating shenanigans all in one small tree. Just try and keep up with them. (If anyone can tell me about the behavior where a pair will suddenly spiral high into the sky, and then back, I’d appreciate it. It’s quite fantastic.)

And in case you’re suffering from insomnia, depression, or grief, the Mimosa tree can apparently help. If its stunning beauty doesn’t cheer you up, according to traditional Chinese medicine and many herbalists, the tree’s bark and flowers can be used in medicinal concoctions which you can buy or make yourself.

THE BAD

Mimosa trees are wonderful, but they do not understand the phrase, “too much of a good thing.” In much of the South they are considered an invasive pest plant because of their tendency to grow fast, reseed prolifically, and out-compete native plants. If there were a tree Olympics, they would be gold medalists. Fortunately this does not appear to be a problem in the North.

Because of the tree’s fast growth rate, it has rather brittle, weak wood which can be subject to winter cracking and breakage. Be aware also that there are a number of serious fungus and insect problems that can plague Mimosas and shorten their already short lives, though I have never seen any evidence in the trees I’ve had.

One final warning – the seedpods contain a neurotoxin and are extremely poisonous, so despite their looking like bean pods, DO NOT put them in your salad.

THE BEAUTIFUL

When in flower, the Mimosa tree is a spectacular sight. I think it is easily one of our most beautiful trees. It has profuse, pink, silky, and wonderfully fragrant flowers that look like little pompoms, and when the wind blows, it looks like a tree full of fairy cheerleaders. The leaves are airy and fern-like, and provide a lovely dappled shade. As an ornamental flowering tree, I think it has few equals.

In short, it’s a complicated tree.

Published by boblorentson

I am a retired environmental scientist and an active daydreamer. I love one-legged air dancers (I think that's what you call them), and I still hate lima beans.

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