Have Another Mimosa: The Blooming of a Controversial Southern Belle

PHOTO BY RYAN BENOIT

We were recently schvitzing our way up the East Coast, on a humid vacation packed with R&R, plant stalking and garden snooping. (Without a cicada in sight!) Our roadtrip started in North Carolina, where we visited Ryan’s parents in Leland, just outside Wilmington.

There’s floral goodness wherever you turn inside this coastal Southern college town. The magnolia trees are in impressive bloom. The hydrangeas are hopping. (More on these later.) Ryan’s mom even gave us a bud vase of fresh-picked gardenias when they met us at the airport! It was a fragrant start to our vacation…and better than a Hawaiian lei, if you ask us.

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Mimosa trees are also in full bloom right now. They’re everywhere: peeking over fences, growing next to streams, stretching their feathery, fernlike leaves over Route 133. The flowers of the Albizia julibrissin are iconic — silky puffs of pink that seem to float like rosy orbs over their bipinnately compound leaves.

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Just like the loquats that grow all over coastal California, the mimosa (aka the silk tree) is native to Asia. And beware the tricky nomenclature: “mimosa” is also used to refer to acacias like Acacia dealbata, whose orange-ish flowers inspired the name of the brunch’s most hallowed cocktail. Also, the mimosa tree we’re talking about, Albizia julibrissin, is not a member of the Mimoseae family, which contains the Mimosa genus. Got all that…?

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The flowers bloom in late spring and into midsummer before giving way to long brown seedpods that reflect the mimosa’s legume heritage. Yankees that we are, we initially thought, “Huh, pretty flower. Let’s write about it!” before we realized that this fluffy Southern belle is actually a polarizing part of the region’s natural architecture.

“When anyone asks me what’s the best time to prune a mimosa, my instinctive response is, ‘Any time you can find a chainsaw,’” writes Steve Bender in Southern Living. For all the childhood memories brought on by these trees, the mimosa is notorious for its invasive spread across many soil types, its athletic procreation, susceptibility to pests and fungus, and overall messiness. On the other hand, pollinators love them.

Having written about the invasive Scotch broom of Seattle and the ice plants in our own neighborhood, we can sympathize. In fact, there’s something classically human about the situation: Who hasn’t been dazzled by a charismatic stranger who eventually overstayed their welcome, trashed your house and guzzled up all the champagne?

Mimosa trees are also flourishing in the community garden.  Here’s a preview:

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