True blue, rare in flowers, is easily obtainable in bog sage

Jimmy Williams

Christine Reynolds was a champion for Paris and Henry County. She was born in 1909 and married Herman Reynolds.

She was noted for being the first woman governor’s cabinet member in state history, serving in the administration of Gov. Frank Clement as commissioner of public welfare, contributing a number of innovations and improvements. 

There are other accolades she received and deserved, but one of the most noticed was the planting of the “mimosa trail” along both sides of Highway 79 between Paris and Kentucky Lake.

Thousands of travelers passed and admired the mimosa trees there with their cotton candy-like flowers each summer. 

We could well make a whole column concerning Christine Reynolds and her attributes in bettering Henry County, but several remaining vestiges of the famous mimosa trail brought to mind the admiration by her many friends here. 

The numerous mimosa trees were planted with funds provided by Welfare Department personnel and, when in full bloom, not many feet of the highway were without the sight of the pink flowers. 

This, along with the sight of mimosa trees flowering during the last month or so in Paris and its environs, engendered this column. 

The mimosa we are talking about here is Albizia julibrissin, and it is grown mostly for its flowers, just about the closest thing we can have here in a hardy tree with the look and fragrance of a tropical specimen.

The mimosa tree is a spectacular sight when full grown and in full flower regalia, which lasts well over a month in June and July in our zone.

They are not winter hardy much north of here, and young trees can be  maimed even here in cold winters, though mature specimens seldom are. 

Mimosas fare well in poor and droughty soils and Christine Reynolds’ choice for the avenue of mimosas was a good one, as most of those trees were on steep banks on the right of way.

Alas, several factors, not the least of which was the widening of 79 to a divided four-lane highway, have contributed to their demise.

But some seedlings from the original planting now survive and have reached adulthood and still flower. 

Though some would argue that the mimosa is a trash tree that seeds incontinently (which is true), when properly sited, it makes a fine medium-size tree to 30 feet or so and spreads to at least twice that if given the space. 

There are several strains of mimosas with flowers ranging from almost white to a dirty, dull pink, but also to a fine dark and clear pink.

The latter is the one you want, and for a look-see at just about the finest one in Paris drive down Volunteer Drive and regale in the one just across from Morningside Retirement Center.

It is fully 30 feet tall and grows, as is appropriate, from a steep bank. The branches spread across part of the street. 

Seed-grown wildlings can be moved and adapted to cultivation, but are unpredictable in color. A few nurseries still carry them in named varieties, where color is stable.  

People are unpredictable, to say the least. At another location in town from the specimen mentioned here was at one time an even larger one, also with the good pink flowers.

It was not spared by the woodsman’s axe (or chainsaw), while nearby grew a half-dead, useless red maple that went untouched. It still struggles along. 

Besides the variance in coloring of the flowers, there is one other mimosa that is desirable to grow. It is the variety ‘Chocolate’ with, as you can imagine, almost black leaves.

I have one in a pot that has struggled for several years, but Jason Reeves at the experiment station at Jackson has one in the ground at his home that is pretty large, enough so that it flowers regularly. Pink on black, what a combo.

 

JIMMY WILLIAMS is the garden writer for The Post-Intelligencer, where he can be contacted on Monday mornings at 642-1162.

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