By Suzie Lee on February 6, 2022
Tree Spotlight Series: Follow along as we learn about the fascinating trees that live among us. This series is in partnership with Rhee Lab in the Plant Biology Department of the Carnegie Institution for Science.
Other posts in the series: ginkgo biloba, Douglas fir, giant sequoia, Chinese tallow, silver-dollar gum, Monterey pine, green dracaena, coast live oak, cork oak, Japanese maple, silver birch, dawn redwood, Japanese persimmon ‘Hachiya’, carob, California bay, avocado, southern magnolia, flowering dogwood, red ironbark eucalyptus, blackwood acacia, narrow leaved paperbark, cockspur coral, Chinese pistache, California pepper tree, and toyon.
Both, while having some redeemable qualities, are known for being manipulative. First of all, like Regina George, the Mimosa tree (Albizia julibrissin) is undeniably attractive. The fairly small tree has a crown of branches with leaves resembling a fern and feathery flowers resembling the flowers of a pink bottle brush tree. Second, the Mimosa tree has a bit of a noxious nature similar to the infamous Regina George. From its toxic seeds to its resilience to thrive in any environment, the Mimosa is quite a controversial tree.
While the flowers and bark of the Mimosa tree are often consumed and processed for medicinal uses, the seeds are not to be messed with. Originating from Persia and eastern Asian countries such as China, Japan, and Korea, the tree is incorporated into many herbal medicines. These medicines are popular in Chinese pharmacology and most often treat depression, anxiety, dermatitis, and insomnia. What’s more, a compound contained in the tree called cyanidin 3-glucoside is known to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. In addition to people fancying the tree for its medicinal purposes, the Mimosa tree’s fragrant flowers attract hummingbirds and butterflies alike. However, the seeds are the exact opposite of the health-friendly flowers and bark. While the identity of the toxic compound in the seed is not known for certain, it is common knowledge that the seeds are fatal when ingested. Most often, farm animals that happen upon the tree are the common victims of the tree after consuming the toxic seeds. The consumption of a large number of seeds may result in difficulty to move and breathe, and even death.
Also known as the Persian silk tree, many have a love-hate relationship with this tree. While the tree is indeed stunning, it’s not favored by all. The Mimosa tree is thought of as an invasive species and is considered a weed in Japan and in some parts of the United States. Due to their invasive nature, the Mimosa tree is rarely suggested as an ornamental plant. Planting a mimosa tree will most likely result in a few more popping up around the area within a few months or weeks. Its invasive nature comes from the tree’s ability to grow with ease in any soil composition. When fertilized, the tree produces bushels of sturdy seeds that can withstand drought and become widespread. What’s more, the mimosa tree can fully regrow after being cut. The tree’s tenacious will to grow makes it one of the most persistent conquistadors of soil and land.
On the other hand, the Mimosa tree has a valuable purpose in rehabilitating soil. Its extensive root system helps prevent soil erosion and is often planted near terraces. The Mimosa tree is also used to restore unsanitary landfills into parks. The tree’s quick adaptability to different soil conditions allows the tree to transform the desolate wasteland into a land of green. Its ability to fix nitrogen also allows the Mimosa tree to infuse the soil with rich nitrogen, making the land a favorable place for other trees and plants to grow. All in all, even though the beautiful Mimosa tree is invasive and toxic, it has redeeming qualities such as its uses in pharmacology and its ability to rehabilitate land.
Suhyun (Suzie) Lee is a 2019 summer intern at the Rhee Lab in the Plant Biology Department of the Carnegie Institution for Science and a student at Cal Poly University studying biology. Molecular biology has always piqued her interest and in the future, she hopes to pursue research regarding the defense mechanisms of organisms and phenotypic plasticity within plants or animals. In her free time, she loves to paint, hike, and garden.