How to Grow and Care for Sensitive Plant


Updated: 16 Nov, 2023

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The sensitive plant, colloquially named the shy plant, is a captivating botanical specimen characterized by its creeping shrub or short-lived perennial nature, adorned with exquisite purple pompom flowers and an intriguing leaf dance.

Its leaves boast a unique feature—covered in tiny, responsive hairs that react to touch, temperature changes, and motion, gracefully folding inwards when stimulated. Not only does this remarkable plant exhibit sensitivity to its surroundings, but it also follows a nightly ritual, delicately closing its leaves.

This responsive behavior is identified as thigmomorphogenesis, serving as a natural defense mechanism. Thriving in optimal conditions, the sensitive plant flourishes in full sunlight, well-draining acidic soil, and a temperature range of 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, creating an enchanting spectacle for those who appreciate the beauty and intricacies of the plant kingdom.

Read also: How to Grow and Care for Candy Corn Plant

Common NameSensitive plant, touch-me-not, shameplant, sleepy plant, shy plant
Botanical NameMimosa pudica
FamilyFabaceae
Plant TypeShrub, herbaceous, perennial, annual
Mature Size18 in. tall, 1-5 ft. wide
Sun ExposureFull, partial
Soil TypeWell-draining, loamy
Soil pHAcidic, neutral
Bloom TimeSummer
Flower ColorPurple, pink
Hardiness Zones7–13 (USDA)
Native AreaCentral America, South America

Why Do the Leaves Close When Touched?

The intriguing phenomenon of the sensitive plant’s leaves closing upon touch prompts a common question: why does it happen? The straightforward answer lies in its instinctive defense mechanism. Mimosa pudica’s leaves don’t merely respond to touch; they are also sensitive to changes in temperature and light. When touched, the leaves promptly fold up, remaining closed for a few minutes. This responsive behavior extends to external stimuli like sudden shifts in light, rapid cooling, or heating.

Within the leaves of Mimosa pudica, water and minerals are stored, and the closing effect results from alterations in turgor pressure—the pressure of water within the cells against the cell walls. Scientists theorize that this leaf-closing response serves a protective purpose. By making the plant appear smaller, it exposes sharp spines on the stems, acting as a deterrent against herbivores and insects that might otherwise consume the plant. This intricate mechanism showcases the plant’s adaptive strategy for survival in its natural environment.

Is it Bad to Touch a Touch-Me-Not Plant?

While commonly referred to as the “touch-me-not” plant, Mimosa pudica is not adversely affected by touch, and interacting with it poses no harm to you. The moniker stems from its swift responsiveness to touch, adding an element of intrigue to its nature. Having Mimosa pudica around the home proves to be an enjoyable experience, and it serves as a captivating conversation piece when guests visit. Far from being a plant to avoid, this unique specimen encourages hands-on interaction, allowing for a delightful and engaging connection with nature.

Sensitive Plant Care

Ensure optimal care for your sensitive plant by providing abundant bright sunlight, whether cultivated indoors or outdoors. Opt for well-draining, loamy soil to foster healthy root development. Maintain soil moisture without allowing it to become excessively soggy. During the winter months, curtail watering for indoor sensitive plants. Achieve the best results by regulating temperatures within the range of 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, whether the plant resides indoors or outdoors.

To cater to the preferences of the sensitive plant, maintain higher levels of indoor humidity. Exercise caution when considering planting it in the ground, reserving this choice for tropical or subtropical climates. Adhering to these care guidelines will promote the flourishing growth of your sensitive plant, ensuring its vitality and vibrancy.

Light:
Sensitive plants thrive in bright sunlight and are not shade-tolerant. They require approximately eight hours of daylight and can tolerate partial shade, but full shade hampers their growth. When cultivating them indoors, the optimal location is directly in front of or beside a sunny window. Closed leaflets during the day signal insufficient light exposure.

Soil:
For landscape growth, a sensitive plant flourishes in well-draining, loamy soil. Compacted soil is detrimental to its roots, necessitating enhancement with peat moss for improved drainage. In its natural habitat, the sensitive plant resides in nutrient-deficient soil, making overly rich soil or frequent fertilization unnecessary. As a houseplant, a standard commercial potting mix serves as an excellent growing medium.

Water:
Maintain consistent soil moisture without allowing it to become waterlogged, as the sensitive plant is susceptible to root rot. Water when the soil’s top layer begins to dry out, reducing watering in winter to prevent overhydration.

Temperature and Humidity:
While the sensitive plant can be a short-lived outdoor perennial in zones 7 to 13, it is often an indoor potted houseplant. Thriving in temperatures of 65 to 75 degrees, it appreciates moderate to high humidity. Indoor conditions typically suffice, but in dry climates, consider a humidifier or a tray of water-filled pebbles for added moisture. Potted patio plants should be brought indoors outside the ideal temperature range.

Fertilizer:
Sensitive plants naturally thrive in nutrient-poor soil, reducing the need for fertilization. Optionally, provide a boost during the growing season with a half-strength, high-potassium liquid fertilizer every few weeks. Always water the plant before fertilizing to avoid root damage.

Types of Sensitive Plant

The term “Sensitive Plant” commonly refers to the Mimosa pudica, a species known for its unique leaf-folding response to touch. However, other plants with similar names or characteristics might be colloquially referred to as sensitive plants. Here are a few examples:

  • Mimosa pudica (Sensitive Plant or Touch-Me-Not): This is the most well-known sensitive plant. It is a small, creeping annual or perennial with compound leaves that fold inward when touched.
  • Aeschynomene spp. (Sensitive Pea): Also known as the sensitive pea, this plant is a member of the legume family. It exhibits similar leaf-folding behavior in response to touch.
  • Neptunia spp. (Sensitive Neptunia): Another member of the legume family, sensitive neptunia, has fern-like leaves that close when touched, similar to Mimosa pudica.
  • Chamaecrista spp. (Sensitive Plant or Partridge Pea): This is a genus of plants within the legume family that includes species with sensitive leaves.
  • Schrankia spp. (Sensitive-Briar): This is a small genus of plants with sensitive leaves, and they are sometimes referred to as sensitive-briars.

It’s essential to note that while these plants share the trait of leaf movement in response to touch, they may belong to different genera and families. Mimosa pudica is the most widely recognized as the “Sensitive Plant,” but regional variations in common names can lead to different plants being referred to by similar names.

Propagating Sensitive Plant

Propagating sensitive plants, particularly Mimosa pudica, can be achieved through stem cuttings. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do it:

  • Prepare the Cutting:
    Select a healthy stem tip that is approximately 4 to 6 inches long.
    Ensure that the cutting includes at least one exposed leaf node. This is where roots will develop.
  • Planting Medium:
    Fill a small pot with a well-draining mixture of peat moss and perlite. This combination provides the right conditions for root development.
  • Plant the Cutting:
    Insert the cut end of the stem into the planting medium, ensuring that the exposed leaf node is buried in the soil.
  • Optimal Conditions:
    Place the pot in a warm and bright location. Sensitive plants thrive in sunlight, so ensure they receive adequate light for successful propagation.
  • Cover with Plastic:
    Cover the pot with clear plastic to create a humid environment around the cutting. This helps in preventing excessive moisture loss and promotes root development.
  • Rooting Period:
    Over the next one to four weeks, monitor the cutting for signs of root development. Once roots have formed, the cutting is ready for the next step.
  • Transplanting:
    Once the cutting has established roots, it can be transplanted into a larger pot or directly into the garden, depending on your preference and the growing conditions.

By following these steps, you can successfully propagate sensitive plants from stem cuttings. This method provides an efficient way to create new plants, ensuring that the unique characteristics of the sensitive plant are passed on to the next generation.

How to Grow Sensitive Plants from Seed

While propagating sensitive plants through seeds stands as the most dependable method for cultivating new growth, a bit of guidance is beneficial to initiate germination. Follow these straightforward steps:

Seed Acquisition:
Acquire seeds from a reputable source or collect them from dried seed pods remaining after the summer flowers have waned.

Seed Preparation in Spring:
In the spring, prepare the seeds through scarification—scratch the resilient exterior using a sharp knife or soak them in water overnight to promote successful germination.

Sowing Process:
Plant the prepared seeds in small pots filled with moistened potting mix, ensuring an adequate environment for initial growth. Cover the seeds with a small layer of additional potting mix.

Optimal Conditions:
Place the pots in a bright, warm location. Germination typically occurs within about one week under these favorable conditions.

Transplanting as Needed:
As the roots begin to fill the pot and become visible through the drainage holes, transfer the seedlings into larger containers. This step ensures continued healthy growth and development.

By adhering to these steps, you can effectively propagate sensitive plants from seeds, fostering a reliable and successful method for introducing new plants into your garden or indoor space.

Potting and Repotting Sensitive Plant

Sensitive plants exhibit rapid growth, often necessitating multiple repottings as they outgrow their containers. When you observe roots emerging from the drainage holes, it’s a clear indication that it’s time for a transplant, a task that may be required several times within a single year. Opt for a self-watering planter equipped with drainage holes to provide an ideal growing environment.

Expect some leaf drooping after repotting; however, be patient as the plant will inevitably rebound. If, post-blooming, the plant’s condition deteriorates to the point of unattractiveness, consider saving the seeds, discarding the plant, and initiating the planting process anew. Many growers opt to sow fresh seeds each year, disposing of the older plants after their flowering cycle. This cycle ensures a continuous and vibrant display of sensitive plants in your garden or indoor space.

Common Pests

Various pests pose a threat to sensitive plants, with spider mites and mimosa webworms being prominent culprits. These pests create webs that encase the leaves, impeding the plant’s characteristic responsive closing. Additionally, common houseplant pests like mealybugs and thrips can affect sensitive plants. Combatting these pests can be achieved through the application of non-toxic horticultural oil, which proves to be an effective treatment.

On a positive note, sensitive plants exhibit resilience against diseases, making them relatively resistant to such health concerns. This resilience adds to the overall appeal of cultivating sensitive plants, as their susceptibility to diseases is notably lower compared to some other plant varieties.

How to Get Sensitive Plants to Bloom

The sensitive plant is primarily cultivated for its distinctive foliage, renowned for its unique response to touch and stimuli. The transient appearance of pink-purple pompom flowers, occurring from May through September, serves as a delightful bonus to its captivating features.

The flowers, though lacking a distinct aroma, reveal a fascinating aspect of the plant’s defense mechanism. Research indicates the emission of a foul odor when the roots face aggressive disturbance or are uprooted from the ground.

To encourage more blooms, ensure the plant receives adequate light, a common challenge for indoor houseplants. Consider relocating it to a sunlit outdoor spot during spring and early summer or supplementing indoor plants with artificial light to stimulate flower production. Temperature fluctuations can also impact flowering, so maintaining an ideal range of 65 to 75 degrees is crucial.

After blooming, the sensitive plant may experience a decline indoors. Deadheading is unnecessary; instead, save the seeds for potential replanting if desired. This straightforward care approach ensures the continued vitality and enjoyment of the sensitive plant in your garden or indoor space.

Common Problems With Sensitive Plant

If your sensitive plant appears to be declining, it doesn’t necessarily indicate neglect. Consider the following factors when cultivating this unique species:

Rapid Decline:

First-time growers may be surprised by the swift decline of the sensitive plant, especially after its initial flowering. Unlike many common houseplants that are tropical evergreen perennials, sensitive plants exhibit a different life cycle. They tend to decline soon after flowering. Instead of trying to prolong its life, it’s advisable to save seeds, plant a new specimen, and discard the parent plant as it begins to decline.

Leggy Stems:

Leggy stems with sparse foliage are often a result of insufficient sunlight. Ensure the plant receives a minimum of eight hours of daylight, supplemented with artificial light if necessary. Regular pruning is essential to maintain a bushy and full appearance.

Yellow or Brown Leaves:

Yellow or brown leaves can stem from various causes. Brown or yellow leaf tips may indicate dry air, a common issue in heated rooms with low humidity. Regular misting or placing a humidifier nearby can alleviate this.

Lower leaves turning yellow might be a sign of overwatering. Additionally, yellow leaves can result from inadequate light, nutrient deficiencies, or temperatures dropping below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, which is too cold for the sensitive plant.

FAQs

What is the scientific name of the sensitive plant?

The sensitive plant is scientifically known as Mimosa pudica.

Why is it called the “shy plant”?

The sensitive plant earned its nickname “shy plant” due to its unique leaf movement, where the leaves fold inwards when touched or exposed to certain stimuli.

What is thigmomorphogenesis?

Thigmomorphogenesis refers to the plant’s response to mechanical stimulation, such as touch. In the case of a sensitive plant, this response involves the folding of its leaves as a defense mechanism.

How does the sensitive plant protect itself?

The plant employs thigmomorphogenesis as a defense mechanism, folding its leaves in response to touch or external stimuli. This behavior is thought to deter herbivores.

Does the sensitive plant have any special care requirements?

The sensitive plant thrives in full sunlight, well-draining acidic soil, and temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Providing these conditions ensures optimal growth.

What is the significance of the purple pompom flowers?

The delicate purple pompom flowers contribute to the aesthetic appeal of the sensitive plant. They are an integral part of its visual charm and make it a popular choice among gardeners.

Is the sensitive plant suitable for indoor cultivation?

While the sensitive plant can be grown indoors, it requires adequate sunlight and well-draining soil. Care should be taken to mimic its preferred outdoor conditions for successful indoor cultivation.

Can the sensitivity of the plant be observed at night?

Yes, the sensitive plant also exhibits leaf movement at night, as it delicately closes its leaves as part of its natural nightly routine. This behavior is an additional aspect of its fascinating responsiveness to its environment.

Conclusion

The sensitive plant, or “shy plant,” emerges as a captivating botanical wonder with its delicate purple pompom flowers and the enchanting dance of its responsive leaves. Mimosa pudica, as it is scientifically known, showcases a unique sensitivity to touch, temperature, and motion, exemplified by the graceful folding of its leaves upon stimulation. The nightly ritual of leaf closure, known as thigmomorphogenesis, adds another layer to its intricate defense mechanisms. Thriving in specific environmental conditions, including full sunlight, well-draining acidic soil, and a temperature range of 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, this plant captivates both novice and seasoned gardeners alike.

With its charming aesthetics and interactive features, the sensitive plant stands as a testament to the wonders of nature. Whether grown indoors or outdoors, understanding and providing for its specific care requirements allows enthusiasts to witness the beauty of its responsive foliage. In the grand tapestry of botanical diversity, the sensitive plant’s unique characteristics make it a delightful and engaging addition to gardens and indoor spaces alike.


Mary Lloyster

Mary Lloyster

Mary, the ultimate oracle of indoor gardening! With years of experience and a flourishing indoor expo, Mary has become our go-to expert for all things related to house plants and indoor gardening. Despite her background in Political Science, Mary has discovered a delightful way to blend her full-time job with a touch of relaxation through indoor gardening. Now, she eagerly shares her wisdom and experiences with our readers on a daily basis. If you have any inquiries about house plants, indoor gardening techniques, or caring tips, don't hesitate to leave a comment for Mary in the designated section below!

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