The Sensitive “Weed”

Dozens of pinkish purple starbursts dot the lawn behind the community clubhouse. To many these are weeds to be mowed when the contractor cares for the community’s common grounds.

But if you stop to smell the flowers and examine the plant closely, you will discover a remarkable wildflower with a fascinating natural history. It is sensitive brier, a member of the legume (pea) family. Nodules of bacteria on its roots collect atmospheric nitrogen and deposits it in the soil. In effect this plant fertilizes the soil.

Rub your finger on its leaves, and watch the leaflets close. This process is called rapid plant movement. Essentially, touching the plant triggers the cells in the leaves to rapidly lose water and the leaflets close exposing the prickly stems. This is thought to be the wildflowers’ defense mechanism to deter plant eaters. causing the curling of the leaflets. When left alone, the leaflet regains its composure.

As I photographed the purple puffs of flowers, honey bees buzzed from one blossom to another, stopping to suck up the nectar hidden within. The bees brushed up against the protruding stamens tipped with yellow pollen unknowingly pollinating the flowers.

The next time you come upon an unwanted plant in your garden, take a closer look at it, enjoy its beauty and think about the niche it has in its native environment. After all, it’s only considered a weed if you don’t want it there.

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