The mimosa (Silk tree, Sensitive plant) is a fast
growing small tree reaching heights up to 11 metres. The leaves are
about 30cms long and are known for their defensive reaction to touch
or light: touch the leaf or hold a lit match nearby and the entire
leaf close within seconds. The flowers are pink and look like fluffy
silk powder puffs - the overall effect is that of a burst of fireworks.
The strong sweet fragrance of the flowers fills the mid-summer air
and attracts bees. The flattened seeds are in pods about 20cms long,
and have bristles which snag the fur or clothes of passers-by. Both
this years flowers and last years pods can be found on the tree in
Mimosa seeds have impermeable seed coats that allow them to remain
dormant for years. One study showed 90% germination after five years;
another showed 33% germination of seeds after 50 years in open storage.
Originally from China, this tree has been cultivated as an ornamental
since the 18th century. However in many areas it has escaped cultivation
and is now growing on its own along roadways and other disturbed areas,
and is classed as an invasive plant.
In Crete, it can be found in the gardens of traditional houses, or
planted in lines by the roadside, offering welcome shade to the traveller!