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Mimosa pudica (sensitive plant)

Few can resist touching the compound leaves of the sensitive plant and watching them fold up in response.
Mimosa pudica flowers and leaves

A stalked flowering head of Mimosa pudica in the axil of a compound leaf (Photo: Wolfgang Stuppy)

Species information

Scientific name: 

Mimosa pudica L.

Common name: 

sensitive plant, touch-me-not plant, humble plant, shameful plant (English); for further common names see 'What's in a name?' section below.

Conservation status: 

Not considered to be threatened.


Open waste ground within tropical vegetation in its native range.

Key Uses: 

Grown as an ornamental, its touch-sensitive leaves create interest among adults and children alike, helping to inspire interest in plant life generally. It has many traditional medicinal uses.

Known hazards: 

Contains the alkaloid mimosine (a hydroxamino acid of aromatic nature), which in large doses is toxic to humans and animals. The plant stem is armed with sharp prickles.


Leguminosae/Fabaceae - Mimosoideae
Genus: Mimosa

About this species

The sensitive plant is popular in cultivation around the world, and is enjoyed by many as a curiosity due to its highly touch-sensitive leaves.

Robert Hooke (English scientist famous for his microscopy work, 1635-1703) was one of the first people to investigate the movements of Mimosa pudica, and at that time it had been suggested that plants had nerves and tissues similar to those in animals. It was later discovered that the leaves fold as a result of the internal movement of water, and the mechanics of the process are now well-documented. A stimulus, such as touch or air movement, triggers certain areas of the stem to release chemicals, which cause water to move out of cell vacuoles and leads to cell collapse.

This rapid plant movement is thought to act as a defence against herbivores, which may be deterred by the dramatic response, or if they are small, may be dislodged as the leaves collapse.


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