Sunday, February 14, 2010

Prairie sensitivity

Like venus-fly-traps, Mimosa pudica is a classic "wow" plant that teachers love to show children: after all it MOVES when you touch it. Since it's a tropical weed, it is quite sensitive to frost and must be kept moist. Few people realize that Sensitive Plant has an extremely similar looking cousin native to much of the southern Great Plains which thrives on heat and drought and cheerfully survives subzero cold. The genus Schrankia boasts several species which come into Colorado, although I have only seen them growing wild in Texas and New Mexico where they are quite widespread and abundant. They make a trailing groundcover that can cover a meter or more of ground in a summer with their ferny, delicate looking leaves. Like their tropical cousin, these close quickly when you brush against them (the warmer the weather, the quicker they close). The stems are bristly with fine prickles that might make some fussy gardeners nervous. Not me. I absolutely love this plant.

I hope we grow wide swaths of it in the new Children's garden at Denver Botanic Gardens. I only have one sad little specimen in my home garden, but the Gardens has two (the ones in these pictures) thriving in Dryland Mesa where they bloom on and off all summer (abundantly after a good rain). The long, bristly seedpods are quite fun as well. Bluebird nursery sells this, but other than a few mentions in technical floras, this (one of America's most entertaining and useful ornamentals) is otherwise practically unknown.

Let's plant lots of it in the coming years and change that dreadful state of affairs! Heaven only knows, we can use more sensitivity--and not just on the plains!


3 comments:

  1. What an odd duck to cover in the midst of winter. Having one of these in the garden constantly reminds me of the grassy and sandy plains just north of the volcanic outcrops along the southeastern Colorado - New Mexico - Oklahoma border. Seed of this prickly denizen is often available from not-ready-for-prime-time seed dealers but seed of its cousin, Mimosa borealis, has not been available for more than 20 years of searching. With any luck, more Schrankia plants will grace the garden this year (it gets a little cranky in the seedling container)

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  2. I think I can deduce Anonymous: you should realize that I resurrect things like Schrankia in winter since I can't dash off to Tucson like some people I know at the drop of a hat. What better way to warm up than summon this sensitive briar? I'll bet there's some Mimosa borealis tucked away somewhere in my files (the seed probably lasts forever)....

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