How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Sensitive Plants (Mimosa Pudica)

Named for its rapid response to being touched, Mimosa pudica is one of a few plants that will close up when disturbed. Gardening expert Madison Moulton tells you everything you need to know about growing these fascinating plants.

Close-up of a potted plant Sensitive plant on a white background. The plant grows in a white pot. Sensitive plants, also known as Mimosa pudica, exhibit a unique appearance characterized by their fern-like leaves and rapid response to touch. These plants feature compound leaves composed of small leaflets arranged along delicate stems, giving them a feathery appearance.

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Have you ever wished your houseplants would respond to you or give you some feedback that lets you know they’re alive? If so, you need Mimosa pudica, commonly known as the sensitive plant.

This unique species is known for its responsive leaves, folding inwards or collapsing when they are touched. They close up incredibly quickly, slowly returning to normal as the cells go back to their previous shape. Whether you want to experiment with this interesting ability or have kids interested in gardening, sensitive plant ticks all the boxes.

This plant is quite aggressive, so it’s best to keep them indoors to stop the seeds from spreading. Luckily, with this guide, they are easy to grow and make wonderful houseplants.

Overview

Close-up of Mimosa pudica in a beautiful decorative pot on a white background. The compound leaves of the sensitive plant fold inward and droop when touched, creating a visually striking and interactive display. The pinnately divided leaves are bright green and covered in fine hairs.
Plant Type Houseplant
Family Fabaceae
Genus Mimosa
Species Mimosa pudica
Native Area Central and South America
Exposure Full sun
Height 1’-5’
Watering Requirements Low
Pests & Diseases Spider mites, whiteflies, root rot
Maintenance Moderate
Soil Type Well-draining houseplant mix
Soil pH Acidic, neutral

What Is It?

Close-up of a blooming touch me not in a sunny garden. also known as the sensitive plant, it exhibits small, fluffy pink or lavender flowers that add a delicate and charming touch to its appearance. The flowers are borne in spherical clusters at the tips of the stems, contrasting beautifully against the plant's bright green, pinnately divided leaves.
Sensitive plant closes its leaves when touched.

Mimosa pudica has many comical common names that describe its unique movement. Sensitive plant is one of the most widely used, but you’ll also see them labeled shy plant or touch-me-not.

What makes this plant so popular among gardeners is its fascinating ability to respond to touch and movement or heat. Its delicate fern-like leaves quickly close up when disturbed, reopening slowly over several minutes.

This movement is made possible by receptors in the leaves that quickly draw water out of the cells when touched, causing them to collapse. After touching, the water slowly returns to the cells in the leaves, giving them their usual structure.

Senstive plant is part of a plant family you may recognize – Fabaceae. This is commonly known as the legume or bean family, containing a wide range of famous crops. This is just one species in a genus with over 500 inhabitants, some of which share the ability to collapse their leaves when touched.

Originating from tropical regions of the Americas, this quick-growing plant loves warmth and humidity. It’s often found in bright and sunny areas, thriving in well-drained soil and with little attention. In fact, it’s generally considered an invasive weed in some environments, often found growing on roadsides and spreading rapidly via seed. This is why it is much better as a houseplant.

Characteristics

Close-up of a flowering plant against a blurred background of green foliage. commonly known as the sensitive plant, it  is characterized by its intriguing appearance, featuring delicate compound leaves and small, fluffy pink or lavender flowers. The compound leaves are pinnately divided into numerous leaflets, which are bright green and covered in fine hairs.
These plants have rapid growth and fern-like leaves.

Sensitive plants grown outdoors reach about five feet tall and spread just as wide. However, when grown in containers, they remain more compact (around one foot), creating a short and bushy appearance in the right conditions.

These plants are known for their rapid growth, germinating quickly from seed and not taking long to fill out a container. They are one of the few houseplants that are easiest to grow from seed, adapting well to your home environment.

The leaves have a feathery look similar to ferns, pairing well with other leafy houseplants.  The individual leaves are quite small and can slowly fold in one by one when touched, making interacting with this plant irresistible (especially for kids).

In the right conditions, your sensitive plant will also produce fluffy, spherical pink flowers. These flowers usually appear in summer, providing a bright pop of color and contrasting well with the green of the leaves.

This plant is typically treated as an annual in cooler climates due to its sensitivity to cold. However, in its native tropical conditions, it will come back year after year. It’s relatively short-lived when growing in containers, but you can always save the seeds to plant again the following year if your plant is not performing as well as it used to.

If you do live in a warmer tropical region, this plant comes with a warning. It is an aggressive spreader in some areas, growing rapidly and crowding out native plants. It’s best to restrict to containers and preferably keep indoors to stop the seeds from spreading.

Planting

Close-up of young  seedlings in plastic pots under sunlight. The young plants feature delicate, compound leaves with pinnately divided leaflets that are initially small and tender. The leaflets are bright green, exhibiting the characteristic sensitivity to touch, causing them to fold in response.
Cultivation from seed offers control, excitement, and watching plant growth.

Growing from seed is typically the easiest option, especially if you can’t find any mature plants for sale in your area. The process also comes with the bonus of watching a plant grow from a tiny seedling into a mature plant – not something many houseplant lovers get to experience.

Mimosa pudica seeds are available online and can be planted directly into their final containers, allowing you to carefully control soil conditions and drainage. A small to medium-sized pot typically provides enough space for the roots to expand while balancing the size of the mature plant.

Mimosa seeds have quite a hard exterior, so it’s best to soak them before planting. This will increase your chances of germination. Soak a few seeds in warm water overnight the day before you plan to plant.

To sow, start by filling your selected container with a well-draining houseplant potting mix or amend potting soil with coconut coir and perlite. Moisten the soil slightly and place about three seeds on the soil surface, spacing them out evenly. Sow on the surface or cover with a very thin layer of soil, as sowing too deeply will inhibit growth in young plants.

After sowing, water the soil lightly to settle the seeds. Cover the container with clear plastic wrap or cover with a seed tray dome to trap humidity and create the ideal conditions for germination. Keep the soil consistently moist and wait a few weeks for your adorable new plants to emerge.

How To Grow

Sensitive plants are often labeled as hard to grow. But that’s usually because their needs differ slightly from the houseplants you may be used to. If you provide the right environment, even beginners won’t have trouble growing these plants.

Light

Close-up of a sensitive plant in a large clay pot against a background of a window with sunlight. Its leaves are pinnately divided into numerous small leaflets, which are bright green and covered in fine hairs.
Provide direct sunlight, preferably six hours daily indoors.

Unlike many houseplants, Mimosa pudica thrives in direct sunlight. Outdoors, they typically receive a minimum of six hours of direct sun. To match these conditions indoors, a bright and unobscured south-facing window is a must-have.

If the light exposure is too low, you’ll see slow, leggy growth and no flowers. The leaves may also start to yellow and droop. Any signs of struggle mean you should move your sensitive plant to a brighter area immediately or supplement with indoor grow lights.

Water

Close-up of Sensitive green plant with water drops on a blurred background. The compound leaves of this perennial herb are pinnately divided, exhibiting bright green coloration and a feathery texture.
Avoid overwatering sensitive plants to prevent root rot and plant death.

One of the biggest dangers when growing sensitive plants is overwatering. They do wilt quickly, but it’s far safer to leave them to dry out slightly than to water too much. Overwatering will lead to root rot that will kill off the roots and, ultimately, the entire plant if not controlled.

You should also avoid the other extreme of underwatering. Leaving the soil dry for too long will stress the plant and cause the soil to compact. Since they are relatively drought-tolerant, I would wait until I spot them wilting just slightly before watering again to avoid the risk of overwatering.

Soil

Close-up of a young  plant in a pot with moist, dark brown soil. .
Use well-draining houseplant mix with soil, coconut coir, and perlite.

For indoor growth, a houseplant mix that drains well is essential. The soil should allow air to flow around the roots and excess water to drain while retaining enough moisture to keep the plant satisfied.

My typical houseplant mix is a combination of two parts potting soil, one part coconut coir, and one part perlite. In optimal lighting conditions (in other words, a full day of sun), I would add a little more coir to ensure the soil doesn’t dry out too quickly.

Temperature and Humidity

Close-up of mimosa  a blurred background. Mimosa pudica, commonly known as the sensitive plant, boasts a distinctive appearance with its finely divided compound leaves and responsive stems. The leaves are pinnately compound, featuring numerous small leaflets that are bright green and covered in fine hairs.
Mimosa pudica thrives in warm and humid conditions.

Native to the tropics, this plant needs a warm and humid environment to survive. They don’t appreciate cold and will stop growing if temperatures dip too low. Luckily, that’s what makes them such great houseplants – they appreciate the same conditions we do.  

Average room temperatures around 75°F (24°C) are best for strong growth. High humidity is also important to keep the leaves lush. If your indoor air is very dry, use a pebble tray or a humidifier to improve conditions. If you are using a humidifier, avoid misting the plant directly, focusing the stream on the air around the plant instead.

Fertilizing

Close-up of chemical fertilizers in a hand with a bright orange glove on a green background. Fertilizers are small, granular, round in shape, white and brown.
These low-maintenance plants thrive in nutrient-poor soils.

To add to their low-maintenance nature, these plants don’t really require extra feeding. As mentioned, they are considered weeds in some areas and grow happily in nutrient-poor soils. If you’ve planted in a good soil mix, there will be plenty of nutrients to fuel growth.

If you want to boost your chances of flowering, you can fertilize with a low-strength dose of high-potassium fertilizer in late spring. However, it’s important not to overfertilize, as this will stunt growth rather than help it. Avoid fertilizers high in nitrogen, which can lead to leggy growth and few blooms.

Maintenance

 green leaves detail shot on a blurred background. the sensitive plant presents a striking appearance with its vibrant green leaves. The compound leaves are pinnately divided into numerous small leaflets, each exhibiting a bright green coloration and a delicate texture. The leaflets are arranged along slender stems, creating a feathery and intricate foliage.
Prune young plants for fuller growth.

Pruning when the plant is young will encourage branching and bushier growth, giving you a fuller plant as it matures. Remove any dead branches or yellowing leaves as they appear to prevent stress. Always use sharp and clean pruning shears to prevent damage and the spread of disease.

Since these plants are short-lived, repotting is not usually necessary. However, if you’ve had yours for a few years and it’s still happy, you may want to repot to refresh the soil. Simply remove the plant from its container, tease the roots slightly to remove the old soil, and replant into a fresh soil mix.

Propagation

Close-up of a sprout in a white plastic cup with soil.
Collect and replant seeds at the end of summer for propagation.

The best way to propagate sensitive plants each year is by collecting and replanting the seeds. Since the plants produce several seeds and the seeds have a high germination rate, you shouldn’t have any trouble collecting them at the end of summer.

Allow any flowers that appear to mature and develop into seed pods. As the pods dry and turn brown, they will start to open, ready for collection. Carefully remove the pods from the plant and extract the seeds gently.

Once you have collected the seeds, store them in a cool and dry place until you are ready to plant again. When you want to grow new plants, simply follow the planting instructions above to start from scratch.

Common Problems

Because of their unique growth, you may encounter a few unexpected growth problems. Luckily, with the right care, these problems are easy to prevent.

Leggy Growth

Close-up of the stems of a sensitive plant on a white background. The sensitive plant features intricate compound leaves and slender stems. The compound leaves are pinnately divided into multiple small leaflets, each exhibiting a bright green coloration and a feathery texture. The leaflets are arranged along the stems, creating a delicate and elegant foliage.
Prune leggy growth and provide adequate lighting with grow lights indoors.

One of the common issues when growing sensitive plants indoors is leggy growth – stretching stems and sparse leaf growth leaning toward the nearest light source. This is caused by lack of sunlight, common indoors unless you have a large south-facing window that gets a full day of sun. Lack of early pruning can also cause the plant to look sparse due to lack of branching.

Keep the plant in direct sun all day and prune to remove leggy growth and promote branching. If you don’t have the right lighting indoors, supplement with grow lights to bring the plant back to its bushy form.

Lack of Flowers

A macro view of the sensitive plant, reveals intricate details of its unique and captivating features. The compound leaves, with their finely divided structure, are prominently displayed, showing the vibrant green coloration and delicate texture of the individual leaflets.
Adequate light and avoiding overfertilizing both encourage flower development.

A lack of flowers can be a concern if you’re hoping to save seeds to replant the following season. Like leggy growth, insufficient light is a common culprit. Overfertilizing can also cause the plant to prioritize leaf growth over flower development.

Ensure the plant is receiving enough light and avoid feeding too often to promote prolific flowering.

Discolored Leaves

Close-up sensitive plant with crispy leaves in a white pot. The sensitive plant with crispy leaves presents a striking appearance marked by its wilted and desiccated foliage. The compound leaves, typically vibrant green and finely divided, exhibit a dried and brittle texture, with curled edges and a faded coloration.
Prevent leaf discoloration by planting in well-draining soil and adjusting watering.

Discoloration of leaves, like many other houseplants, has a variety of causes. Incorrect watering is the most common, with overwatering more likely than underwatering. Brown or crispy leaves can be a sign of under-watering or low humidity.

Plant in well-draining soil (or repot if the soil is waterlogged often), and adjust your watering schedule to avoid overwatering.

Pests

Close-up of Spider mites on a green leaf. Spider mites are tiny arachnids. They have oval-shaped bodies and four pairs of legs, giving them a spider-like appearance. They have translucent, brownish bodies.
Manage indoor plant pests like spider mites with regular insecticidal treatments.

Common indoor plant pests also like to attack sensitive plants, including spider mites and whiteflies.  These pests can typically be managed with regular checks and immediate treatment by wiping them off the leaves with a damp cloth. If you need an extra layer of protection, follow up by using insecticidal soap or neem oil.

FAQs

Is sensitive plant toxic?

Mimosa pudica is not considered highly toxic to humans or pets. However, ingestion in large quantities can have adverse effects, so it’s best to keep it out of reach anyway.

Why does sensitive plant close up when touched?

Sensitive plants respond to movement, a phenomenon called seismonasty. The movement is believed to be a defence mechanism designed to deter predators by startling them. The closing of the leaves is triggered by changes within the plant’s cells, causing them to lose their structure and the leaves to wilt.

Are sensitive plant and touch-me-not the same thing?

‘Touch-me-not’ is just one of the common names often used for Mimosa pudica. However, it is also shared with other plants, like members of the Impatiens genus. It’s best to check the scientific name of any plant you’re purchasing to make sure you’ve got the right species.

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