The sensitive plant, Mimosa pudica, is so-called because of its unique feature – when the plant is touched, the feathery leaves fold up and the stems droop. It’s thought that in the wild, this is a defence against being eaten by herbivores. The effect is due to the quick release of water from special cells at the bases of the individual leaflets and leaf stalks. The plant can take several minutes to unfurl afterwards.
The leaves will also fold up if there’s a breeze and also fold up naturally (via another mechanism called nyctinastic movement) at night.
Also known as the humble plant, dancing plant, sensible plant and touch-me-not, Mimosa pudica is grown as a house plant in the UK. It’s easy to grow from seed and is a great plant to grow with kids. Pretty pink-purple pompon flowers may be produced in summer, followed by pods – you can save the seed from these.
Mimosa pudica is an annual or short-lived perennial. It becomes less attractive with age, so is best grown from seed every year. It holds the prestigious RHS Award of Garden Merit.
How to grow sensitive plant
The sensitive plant is native to south and central America, so it needs a warm, bright spot and a temperature of no less than 18°C – more if possible. It does best in a humid environment, so growing it in a kitchen or bathroom is ideal. Alternatively, stand on a tray of moist pebbles.
Sensitive plant: jump links
- Planting sensitive plant
- Caring for sensitive plant
- Sowing sensitive plant
- Growing sensitive plant: problem-solving
- Advice on buying sensitive plant
Where to grow sensitive plant
Grow sensitive plant in a warm, bright spot – an east or west-facing windowsill is ideal. It needs humidity, so grow in a naturally humid room, such as a kitchen or bathroom, or stand on a tray of moist pebbles.
How to plant sensitive plant
Plant into a pot that is slightly larger than the rootball, in peat-free multi-purpose compost or a loam-based compost such as John Innes No.2.
Caring for sensitive plant
Keep the compost moist but not soggy in spring and summer, and water sparingly in winter. Feed with a balanced fertiliser every couple of months in spring and summer.
Pruning can keep the plant looking bushy, otherwise it can get a bit tall and leggy.
How to sow sensitive plant seeds
- Sow seeds in spring, having soaked them overnight beforehand
- Sow the seeds into small pots of moist compost, lightly covering them with compost
- Cover with a clear plastic bag and place on a sunny windowsill, alternatively grow in a heated propagator
- Seedlings should appear in 21-30 days. Pot the plants on into larger pots as they grow
Growing sensitive plant: problem solving
Leaves not curling up – if the leaves do not curl up when touched, or react slowly, you have been touching the plant too much. Leave it alone for a few weeks in order for it to become sensitive again. Too much touching can drain the plant’s energy and ultimately shorten its life.
Yellow leaves may mean that the plant is too cold.
Red spider mite can be a problem, especially if the air is too dry.
Advice on buying sensitive plant
- You may find sensitive plant for sale as a house plant at the garden centre or online, but it is more commonly grown from seed
- Check you have the right conditions – the sensitive plant likes a warm, bright, humid spot