Ask Joyce: Fun to look at, painful to step on

  • Published
  • By Joyce I. Martratt
  • 36th Wing
I was walking across a lawn one day and stepped on plants that mysteriously close up. Many people new to Guam probably have never seen these fascinating plants that we call sleeping grass. 

While they're fun to look at and play with, stepping on them with a bare foot will often lead to painful yelps and screams because of their thorny stems.

I remember the days, as a child, how I loved the outdoors and the feel of different plants and wild flowers. One of them was sleeping grass that folded its leaves when I stepped on them. This led to finding more and touching them and watching the leaves fold into what I called prayerful hand. Of course, I had to learn the hard way in the beginning ... the grass was revengeful -- probably in defense. So I wrapped my hands in a piece of cloth and went right back to touching different area to find out what happened next. It was fun!

This pantropical grass is called maigo' lalo' on Guam. It's also known as sleepy grass, tickleme, humble, sensitive, shame, prayer, shy and false death grass or plant. I am certain throughout other countries, the name may be different, but the meaning is the same -- sleeping when touched or stepped on. What is interesting about this weed and its taller family is they do go to sleep when the sun comes down and wake up when the sun rises.

The scientific name is Mimosa pudica and can be found on moist waste ground, lawns, fields and other weedy thickets. Believe it or not, during very dry seasons, this grass can be a fire hazard, according to written accounts. These accounts also mention that in some countries like Brazil and in Asia, parts of the sleeping grass or its giant family trees are used for medicinal purposes. 

On Guam, the maigo' lalo' was extensively used by women of yesteryear for feminine medicinal remedies. I read that in India, the Tepezcohuite from the Mimosa bark is used for different ailments and had testimonies on the treatment of burns, cuts and other skin problems. This ingredient is also found in shampoos, creams and soaps. It is known as a miracle-healing product, promoting healthy cell growth. Tepezcohuite was used extensively by the Mayan civilization for skin renewal long before the Spanish conquest according to written accounts. Curious? I am. 

So next time when you're walking across a grassy area, look out for the greenish or purplish feathery, fern-like grass with purplish pink fluffy flower balls. Touch the leaves, but be careful of the thorns, and watch how it protects itself by going to sleep.

si Joyce I. Martratt