1. Family: Fabaceae Lindl.
    1. Genus: Mimosa L.
      1. Mimosa pudica L.

        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.


    Kew Species Profiles

    General Description
    Few can resist touching the compound leaves of the sensitive plant and watching them fold up in response.

    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.

    Species Profile
    Geography and distribution

    Sensitive plant is native to tropical America, and is found as a weed throughout the tropics. It also enjoys widespread popularity as a house plant.


    Overview: An annual or perennial that normally grows to 50-70 cm tall (but can be up to 1 m tall), and often takes the form of a straggling prickly sub-shrub. Its stems have sparse prickles, 2-2.5 mm long, or are sometimes bristly, or can also be almost hairless.

    Leaves: The leaves are alternate, bipinnate (twice compound), do not have prickles and are very sensitive to touch. The rachis (axis of the compound leaf) is 1.5-5.5 cm long, and the pinnae (primary divisions of the compound leaf) are subdigitate (almost finger-like projections). There are 10-26 pairs of leaflets (the smallest segments of the leaf) per pinna, which are 6-15 x 1.2-3 mm and linear-oblong.

    Flowers: The flowers are lilac or pink (the colour mainly the stamen filaments) and are held in ovoid, stalked heads of 1-1.3 x 0.6-1 cm. A cluster of 1-5 flower heads is borne in the leaf axil. The calyx is minute, about 0.2 mm long. The corolla is 2-2.3 mm long, and contains four stamens.

    Fruits: The pods are 1.8 cm x 3-5 mm, densely bristly, clustered, and have prickles along their margins.

    Like many other legumes, the sensitive plant benefits from an association with nitrogen-fixing bacteria, which live within its root nodules. These bacteria convert atmospheric nitrogen into a form which the plant can make use of, and which aids its growth.

    Rupert C. Barneby (accomplished legume taxonomist, 1911-2000) recognised five varieties of M. pudica . These varieties ( M. pudica var hispida , var. pastoris , var. pudica , var. tetranda and var. unijuga ) are found up to 1,500 m above sea level, and are distinguished from each other using aspects of the flowers and plant indumentum (hairs).

    What's in a name?

    Mimosa pudica was described by Carl Linnaeus (Swedish botanist and father of modern taxonomy, 1707-1778), and is the type species for the genus. The generic name Mimosa is derived from the Greek mimos (meaning mimic) in reference to the fact that the leaves move in response to something moving against them. The specific epithet is taken from the Latin word pudica , meaning bashful or shrinking to contact. The type material for M. pudica is from Brazil and is sterile (does not include any flowers or fruits). It forms part of the historical George Clifford Herbarium at the Natural History Museum, London. George Clifford was an Anglo-Dutch merchant (1685-1760) who owned an estate on which Carl Linnaeus worked from 1735 to 1737.

    More common names for this species

    sensitive plant, touch-me-not plant, humble plant, shameful plant (English); amourette herbe, herbe sensible, sensitive, sensitive épineus, mimosa pudique (French); vergonsoza, dormidera, ten vergüenza (Spanish); pinahuixtle, quecupatli (Nahuatl, Mexico); mori vivi (Hispaniola); honte (Haiti); dormideira (Brazil, Portuguese); Chui-Mui (Urdu); Lojjaboti (Bengali); hánxiū cǎo = shyness grass (Chinese); Nidi kumba (Sri Lanka).

    Legumes and plant movement

    Mimosa pudica is not the only member of the legume plant family (Leguminosae) to move in response to stimuli. More species of Mimosa show sensitivity to touch, known as seismonasty. Other legumes, for example some members of the genera Neptunia , Acacia , Albizia and Samanea , respond to a lesser degree by showing 'sleep movements' (nyctinasty) in their natural habitats. This involves the closing up of the leaves a few hours before dusk, and the re-opening of the leaves a few hours before dawn. It is thought that these 'sleep movements' aid water conservation as well as defence against herbivory.

    Threats and conservation

    The sensitive plant is widely distributed in the tropics, and is not considered to be threatened. Indeed, it is included in the Global Invasive Species Database as one of the world’s worst invasive weeds, invading forestry plantations, croplands, orchards and pastures throughout the tropics, especially in South Asia, the Pacific Islands and some African countries. It can be especially problematic when crops are hand-cultivated, as it has prickles along its stems. Measures have been taken to eradicate it in some areas, for example in Queensland, Australia.


    Traditional medicine

    Mimosa pudica has been used widely in traditional medicine. Pulped leaves are used in India on glandular swellings and in the Republic of the Congo (Congo-Brazzaville) the entire plant is pulped and rubbed onto people suffering pains in their body sides and kidneys. In Senegal, the leaves are used for lumbago and nephritis. All parts of the plant have been used to combat glandular tumours and uterine cancer. In India leaf-sap is applied for sinus disorders, and rubbed onto sores and piles.

    In southeast Asia sensitive plant has been used traditionally to treat sleep disorders, and in Senegal an infusion of the leaves is believed to be calming and sleep-inducing. M. pudica has also been used for treating dysentery, urinary complaints and snake-bites. Root extracts have shown anti-bacterial action, and along with the seeds are purgative and emetic. However, high doses can be toxic. There are reports that the roots can be used as an aphrodisiac. Green parts of the plant are used as an analgesic, antispasmodic, anti-asthmatic, a mild sedative and anti-depressant. Despite its wide use in traditional medicine, M. pudica is not yet used in Western medicine, as pharmaceutical companies are still researching its reported properties and potential uses.

    Other uses

    Sensitive plant is used as a green manure, and cultivated as pasture in Fiji.

    In India it is used as forage for cattle, and is considered to lead to high meat and milk production. Regular grazing is necessary so that thorny stems do not develop. Despite its use as forage, trials in India and Hawaii have shown it can be toxic if fed in high quantities to cattle or horses.

    M. pudica is also used in some areas as ground cover to prevent soil erosion.

    Sensitive plant produces mucilage (a viscous secretion) and a greenish-yellow fatty acid. The oil contains linoleic acid (51%), oleic acid (31%), palmitic and stearic acids (9% each), and traces of others; it resembles soy bean oil, potentially having similar uses.

    Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage

    The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plant life worldwide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in our seed bank vault.

    Collections of  Mimosa pudica seeds are held in Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank based at Wakehurst in West Sussex.

    See Kew’s Seed Information Database for further information on Mimosa pudica seeds


    Sensitive plant is propagated from seed in Kew's Tropical Nursery. The seed is scarified (scratched) and soaked in water overnight. The seed germinates easily, and it is often possible to see the beginnings of root growth by the next day. The compost mix used is high in organic matter, containing 10% loam, 45% coir and 45% Silvafibre, with added fertiliser.

    The sensitive plant suffers from pests including red spider mite, thrips and mealy bugs. Soap sprays are not used to control pests as they cause the leaves to blacken (this is the case with many legumes).

    Mimosa seeds are widely available, inexpensive and can be sown indoors all year round. Seedlings should be kept moist and exposed to bright light, and at a temperature of about 18°C. M. pudica var. hispida , which originates from southwest Mexico, is the most popularly cultivated variety.

    Where to see the sensitive plant at Kew

    Sensitive plant can be seen growing in Kew's Waterlily House. It is also grown behind-the-scenes in Kew's Tropical Nursery.

    Kew's Economic Botany Collection includes samples of the leaves, stems and seeds of Mimosa pudica .

    Open waste ground within tropical vegetation in its native range.
    Not considered to be threatened.

    Contains the alkaloid mimosine (a non-protein amino acid), which in large doses is toxic to humans and animals. The plant stem is armed with sharp prickles.


    Mimosaceae, Hutchinson and Dalziel. Flora of West Tropical Africa 1:2. 1958

    A straggling prickly plant
    The “Sensitive Plant”
    Introduced and rather local.

    Leguminosae, J.P.M. Brenan. Flora Zambesiaca 3:1. 1970

    Annual or perennial herb, sometimes woody below, up to c. 1 m. high, often prostrate or straggling; stems ± sparsely armed with prickles c. 2·5-5 mm. long, in addition varying from densely hispid to subglabrous.
    Leaves sensitive, unarmed; petiole 1·5-5·5 cm. long; rhachis very short, so that the 2 (rarely only 1) pairs of pinnae are subdigitate; leaflets 10-26 pairs, 6-12·5(15) x 1·2-2·75(3) mm.; venation diverging from and not nearly parallel with the midrib; margins setulose.
    Flowers lilac or pink, in shortly ovoid, pedunculate heads c. 1-1·3 x 0·6-1 cm., 1-4(5) together from the axils.
    Calyx minute, c. 0·2 mm. long.
    Corolla 2-2·25 mm. long.
    Stamens 4.
    Pods clustered, 1-1·8 x 0·3-0·5 cm. (excluding the prickles), densely setose-prickly on the margins only.

    Leguminosae, J. B. Gillett, R. M. Polhill & B. Verdcourt. Flora of Tropical East Africa. 1971

    Annual or perennial herb, sometimes woody below, up to about 1 m. high, often prostrate or straggling.
    Stems ± sparsely armed with prickles about 2.5–5 mm. long, in addition varying from densely hispid to subglabrous.
    Leaves sensitive, unarmed; petiole 1.5–5.5 cm. long; rhachis very short, so that the 2 (rarely only 1) pairs of pinnae are subdigitate; leaflets 10–26 pairs, linear-oblong, 6–12.5(–15) mm. long, 1.2–2.75(–3) mm. wide; venation diverging from and not nearly parallel with midrib; margins setulose.
    Flowers lilac or pink, in shortly ovoid pedunculate heads about 1–1.3 cm. long and 0.6–1 cm. wide, 1–4(–5) together from axils.
    Calyx minute, about 0.2 mm. long.
    Corolla 2–2.25 mm. long.
    Stamens 4.
    Pods clustered, densely setose-prickly on margins only, 1.0–1.8 cm. long, 0.3–0.5 cm. wide (excluding the prickles).
    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.



    Found In:

    Bahamas, Belize, Brazil North, Cayman Is., Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Jamaica, Leeward Is., Mexico Central, Mexico Southeast, Mexico Southwest, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, Southwest Caribbean, Windward Is.

    Introduced Into:

    Andaman Is., Assam, Bangladesh, Benin, Burkina, Cambodia, Cameroon, Chagos Archipelago, China South-Central, China Southeast, Christmas I., Congo, Cook Is., East Himalaya, Gabon, Galápagos, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Gulf of Guinea Is., Hainan, India, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Korea, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Maldives, Marianas, Nepal, New Caledonia, New South Wales, Nicobar Is., Nigeria, Niue, Northern Territory, Ogasawara-shoto, Pakistan, Queensland, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Solomon Is., Sri Lanka, Sudan, Taiwan, Tanzania, Togo, Tonga, Uganda, Vanuatu, Wallis-Futuna Is., West Himalaya, Zaïre, Zimbabwe

    Common Names

    Sensitive plant

    Mimosa pudica L. appears in other Kew resources:

    Date Identified Reference Herbarium Specimen Type Status
    Jun 3, 2014 Calatayud, G. [4324], Peru K000966972
    Jan 31, 2008 Melo, M.R.C.S. [176], Pernambuco K000864586
    Jan 1, 2006 Juárez García, G. [873], Mexico K000503996
    Oct 1, 2005 Harvey, Y.B. [72], Cameroon K000338224
    May 1, 2005 Etuge, M. [5259], Cameroon K000338223
    Apr 1, 2002 Arbo, M.M. [7764], Espírito Santo K000864587
    Jan 1, 2002 Arbo, M.M. [7187], Bahia K000864588
    Jul 1, 2001 Cheek, M. [10137], Cameroon K000108288
    Jul 1, 2001 Etuge, M. [1851], Cameroon K000108292
    Jul 1, 2001 Etuge, M. [1847], Cameroon K000108293
    Jan 1, 1997 Rodríguez M., L.C. [160], Mexico K000503997
    Jan 1, 1997 Rivero, E. [206], Bolivia K000503998
    Mar 1, 1995 Botteri [673b], Mexico K000503778
    Jan 1, 1994 Martínez Salas, E.M. [12269], Mexico K000503999
    Jan 1, 1994 Martínez Salas, E.M. [13378], Mexico K000504000
    Jan 1, 1993 Queiroz, L.P. [3448], Bahia K000091160
    Jan 1, 1992 Martínez Salas, E.M. [12328], Mexico K000478775
    Jan 1, 1985 Delgado S, A. [1455], Mexico K000478774
    Feb 1, 1983 Pirani, J.R. [CFCR1614], Bahia K000091034
    Feb 1, 1983 Hage, J.L. [621], Bahia K000091035
    Feb 1, 1983 Hage, J.L. [1167], Bahia K000091036
    Dec 15, 1978 Ule, E. [8129], Roraima K000864589
    Jun 1, 1972 Maas, P.J.M. [234], Amazonas K000864583
    Pedra do Cavalo, G. [195], Bahia K000091037
    s.coll. [Cat. no. 5292] K001120405
    s.coll. [Cat. no. 5292] K001120406
    s.coll. [Cat. no. 5292] K001120407
    s.coll. [Cat. no. 5292], India K001120408
    s.coll. [Cat. no. 5292] K001120409
    s.coll. [Cat. no. 5292] K001120410
    De Silva, F. [Cat. no. 5292] K001120411
    Sousa, M. [4977], Mexico K000478777
    Martínez Calderon, G. [1930], Mexico K000478778
    Bourgeau, E. [1759], Mexico K000478779
    Sousa, M. [11693], Mexico K000478787
    Junghuhn, F. [719], Jawa K000791072 holotype
    Langlassé, E. [362], Mexico K000478776
    Hostmann [627], Suriname K000864581
    Gardner, G. [889], Bahia K000864582
    Bisby, F.A. [1229], Amazonas K000864584
    Cordeiro, M.R. [2488], Pará K000864585

    First published in Sp. Pl.: 518 (1753)

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