If You’re an Introvert, Then This Species Is Your Houseplant Soulmate
If, like me, you’re the kind of person who tears up at dog food commercials and lovingly moves spiders outside instead of doing them harm, then you understand the struggle of being a human who others consider a little bit sensitive. Just like I hold a special place for other folks who tend to be more feeling than thinking, there’s something to be said for the kind of plant that wears its heart on its leaves: one that curls up shyly when touched and prefers to fold in on itself at night instead of whooping it up — leaves splayed open — even after the sun goes down. If you’ve ever opted for a cozying up on the couch with a novel over the chatter of a dinner party, a sensitive plant, which is one of the more rare or unusual houseplant species out there, might be the introverted flower for you.
The sensitive plant — whose Latin moniker, Mimosa pudica, means “bashful” or “shy” and is also nicknamed the “touch-me-not” plant — can be a sight to behold when first encountered: Much like its more aggressive close cousin, the Venus Flytrap, it actively moves. Seriously! Unlike the Venus Flytrap, however, the sensitive plant’s movements are decidedly gentle and defensive, responding to human touch by folding its finger-like leaves in on themselves and giving off the appearance of coyly pulling away from any digit that’s trying to tenderly stroke it. As one row of leaves folds in on itself, it encourages the neighboring leafy tendrils to do the same, causing a chain reaction-like, nature-made fan dance in a kind of plant burlesque show.
Sensitive plants are a joyful surprise and a constant reminder that plants — even those who don’t react when touched — have unique personalities that must be tended to in their own special way. I initially came across sensitive plants in the wild around the base of a mango tree in St. Lucia (these coy flowers only grow outdoors in subtropical climates like the Caribbean or Central America) and not only felt an immediate kinship to their sensitive ways, but I was also smitten with the spiky, rosy puffs that popped out occasionally among the leaves, which were just pink enough to make me think that the plant might actually be blushing.
Years later, I was surprised to discover a flock of sensitive plants at a greenhouse sale and learned that they’re well-suited to indoor living, too. Sensitive plants might have fern-like leaves, but they’re actually creeping annual herbs and need partial shade to full sun for at least eight hours a day. If you bring a sensitive plant home, expect your new flower to close its leaves up at night; like other introverts, it needs time to recharge. Be on the lookout for any curling in (without being stimulated) during the day though, as it might be a sign the plant isn’t getting enough sunlight. My biggest sensitive plant lives a happy, deep-feeling life inside a hanging basket in front of a south-facing window.
For all their quirks, sensitive plants are decidedly hardy, particularly if you keep their soil moist and in a space where temperatures won’t dip below 65 degrees. Higher elevations in a room, too — like hanging baskets or on shelves, where it can creep over the sides of a container — can be good spots for your potted sensitive plant, particularly if there’s a risk of pets or little kids bugging it throughout the day (it really does not want to be hassled, after all). In keeping with their somewhat standoffish personalities, sensitive plants also have small thorns lining their stems, providing yet another reason to keep them just out of reach of any grabby hands or wagging tails.
What do you do if someone uninitiated in the ways of the sensitive plant is surprised when your new leafy friend curls away after being touched? Just tell them that the leaves are simply waving “see you later” for a time when they’re more prepared to have company visiting.