Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Sensitive briar

with 37 comments

Mimosa roemeriana, known as sensitive briar because of the way its compound leaves fold up when touched, produces small flower globes like the one shown here. These globes grow close to the ground, and you can see color traces of three others in the background.

I took this picture a year ago today, on October 17, 2012, in the northeast quadrant of US 183 and Mopac, where I found a resurgence of wildflowers of various kinds. Last fall you saw several other photographs from the same session: a greenthread flower head, some mealy blue sage flowers, a greenbrier tendril and thorn, and an unusually brilliant greenbrier leaf.

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 17, 2013 at 6:09 AM

37 Responses

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  1. How do you get all that information on plants & flowers? Do you mind letting on to your secret 🙂


    October 17, 2013 at 6:29 AM

    • I’ll have to say that I learn from the plants themselves, from people who know about them, and by extension from the books and articles that those people write. I can still remember the first time I ever saw the leaves of a sensitive briar close up: it was in Honduras in 1968. I’d never seen anything like that when I was growing up on Long Island (NY). In this blog I report some of the things I’ve learned, but botanists and plant aficionados know so much more than I do.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 17, 2013 at 7:48 AM

  2. What fun to find one of my favorite prairie flowers here today. Whether this one’s still blooming in Oklahoma, I can’t say, as low growers are hard to spot from a car. But the world’s still awash in flowers, especially goldenrod, snow-on-the-mountain, sunflowers and many, many of those yellow wonders I haven’t been able to identify.


    October 17, 2013 at 6:53 AM

    • Happy CNP, or carside native plants. The morning has come up clear (so far) in Austin for the first time in a week, so I plan—plant—to see which of the flowers you mentioned has stood up to all the rain.

      When I lived on the east side of Austin, for years there was a colony of sensitive briars on the side of Interstate 35 whose pink globes I used to notice when I drove past on the access road. Perhaps you’ll notice a similar colony on your travels.

      I’d originally planned to show today’s photograph last year, along with the others I linked to above from the same outing, but as I’d showed a sensitive briar flower globe not so long before, I kept postponing this post, and eventually I decided to wait till now, a year after I took the picture.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 17, 2013 at 8:01 AM

  3. When I was a kid, Mom grew what she called Sensitive Plants. They responded when touched and had these same flowers. They were fun to play with.

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen them in the wild in Iowa. I have seen plants with similar leaves. They don’t respond to being touched.

    Jim in IA

    October 17, 2013 at 8:10 AM

    • I’m glad you got to experience these, even if “domesticated.” You’re right that this species doesn’t seem to grow as far north as Iowa, and you’re also right that most plants in the pea family with compound leaves that look like those of the sensitive briar don’t respond to touch. Apparently a few members of the family have leaves that are slightly responsive, but the sensitive briar definitely draws our attention when it does its thing—or more likely when we make it do its thing with the help of a finger or foot.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 17, 2013 at 8:20 AM

  4. Is this Whoville? Wonderful shot. ~amy


    October 17, 2013 at 10:13 AM

    • It may be Steveville, because someone of that name spends a lot of time down among Austin’s native plants.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 17, 2013 at 11:13 AM

      • Is Steveville carried by a large elephant? It was a fantastic shot. Nice to meet you, Steve. ~amy


        October 23, 2013 at 6:55 AM

        • There’s no elephant, but my camera bag is hefty enough to seem like one at times. Nice to meet you too, Amy.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 23, 2013 at 7:00 AM

  5. Another beauty. Either you routinely use a tripod or you have nerves of steel. D

    Pairodox Farm

    October 17, 2013 at 11:23 AM

    • Truth to tell, I haven’t used a tripod in a long time. I stabilize myself and the camera the best I can, often by sitting or lying on the ground, and with my macro lens I usually use a shutter speed of 1/400 sec. or faster.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 17, 2013 at 11:30 AM

  6. The flower is so festive: it’s like a whole party wrapped up in a single bloom.


    October 17, 2013 at 11:46 AM

  7. How exciting. I’ve touched Mimosa pudica which I find totally fascinating but I had always thought it was the only sensitive plant in the world.


    October 17, 2013 at 11:55 AM

    • In addition to Mimosa roemeriana, we have a couple of species of Neptunia that also fold their leaves when touched. Neptunia is likewise a plant that grows close to the ground, like the sensitive briar, but its flower “globes” are yellow.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 17, 2013 at 2:07 PM

  8. This is gorgeous Steve. And the background is perfectly muted to show off the floral subject.


    October 17, 2013 at 1:12 PM

  9. Great shot! Check out a macro one I took a while back. Love pictures like yours!


    October 17, 2013 at 1:20 PM

  10. Great placement of the background flowers, Steve.

    Steve Gingold

    October 17, 2013 at 5:12 PM

    • I was fortunate that there were other sensitive briar flower globes nearby to provide “echoes” of the main one.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 17, 2013 at 6:04 PM


    Cathy Testa

    October 18, 2013 at 3:41 AM

    • I visited the same area yesterday, but this time I didn’t see any sensitive briar plants. The image of this one will have to do.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 18, 2013 at 6:51 AM

  12. Ooo! A party on a stick! 😉

    Love this one, Steve.


    October 18, 2013 at 9:18 AM

  13. So intriguing to me–I’ve always known ‘briar’ only as referring to fierce and thorny plants (i.e., Briar Rose’s prison of climbing, sticker-wielding Rosaceae, or Br’er Rabbit’s pernicious briar patch), so it comes as a slightly shocking oxymoron to think of a briar as being sensitive, of all things! How enlightening. And I do think those dainty little pompoms are charming.


    October 18, 2013 at 1:18 PM

    • Someone asked me off-line about the briar part of the name. It comes from the fact that the stems of this plant have quite a few of what botanists call recurved prickles. It’s relatively easy to stick your hand in, but when you try pulling it out, your skin snags those sharp little prickles. Been there, done that.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 18, 2013 at 2:43 PM

  14. […] of plants with globose flower heads like buttonbush and sensitive-briar, here’s yet another: Cirsium texanum, the Texas thistle. You saw an opening bud of this […]

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