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Albizia julibrissin, a tree that brings happiness!

You are 'lucky' if you see an Albizia julibrissin in the Netherlands. Despite the beautiful flowers and winter hardiness, this tree species is not yet widely found in Europe. You are actually double lucky if you see an Albizia Julibirissin, the treethat is known as 'the tree of collective happiness' in China. Read on to learn why!

Nicknames and Chinese wisdom

The name Albizia comes from the Italian nobleman Filipo degli Albizzi, who introduced the tree to Europe in the 18th century. The Albizia julibrissin is native to Asia, from Iran to Japan. The tree belongs to the family of Legumes (Fabaceae) and within that to the Mimosa-like family (Mimosoideae). The genus Albizia has 150 species.

The word Julibrissin is probably a corruption of the Persian gul-i abrisham, which means flower of silk (source). One flower has thousands of stamens that transition from white to pink and carry a tiny ball of pollen on top. It looks almost like silk, similar to the shiny and soft textile woven from the cocoon of the silkworm (a caterpillar that feeds exclusively on leaves of the white mulberry, but we'll save that story for another time).

Another nickname of the Albizia julibrissin is Persian Sleeping Tree, because of the leaves that fold at night and in strong winds and go into a 'sleeping position'.

But the most intriguing nickname must be the Tree of Collective Happiness, as the Albizia julibrissin is known in China. The reason: its medicinal effect.

The flowers and bark of the Albizia have been used as an antidepressant against grief for a long time. The tree was described in a Chinese manuscript from 500 years ago as “He gives joy and comfort, makes the eye shine, brings the heart to life (source). A tree that brings you happiness. Some Chinese herbalists call it "herbal Prozac". The substances from the flower are used against insomnia and shortness of breath. The juices from the bark are said to have an anti-carcinogenic effect. Finally, the seeds also have a useful application for humans: oils are extracted from which soap and shampoo products are made (source).

Insects are also happy with the Albizia julibrissin. Especially bees feast on the nectar of the flowers. Although it is challenging work to get through the stamens…

Sleeping beauty

Back to the bedtime routine. This clean sleeper has beautiful leaves that close slowly at dusk. This process is not only beautiful to see, but there is a special technique behind it, called 'nyctinasty'. A word that you can forget at once (it can't even be used in Scrabble…). However, it is interesting because few plants can move on their own. By pumping water from one side of the petiole to the other, the position of the leaves can be regulated.

Why plants move in this way is not yet entirely clear, but the evolutionary advantage of this mechanism can be guessed: at night – when the leaves cannot catch sunlight anyway – with closed leaves the chance that the leaves will be eaten is smaller [4].

The Little Prince

The Albizia julibrissin is a sleepyhead in another way: The beautiful colors of the Albizia only show themselves late in the season. When all other trees are already in leaf, the first green dots appear on this tree’s branches in mid-May. In The Netherlands that is. Once this process has started, it can go quickly. Within 6 weeks after the first leaves appear, the first pink brush-like flowers appear. The peak of the bloom fest is in July, but the show continues all summer. It is not until the end of September that the flowers slowly disappear like a night candle and the bright color disappears from the crown of the Albizia. The leaves also stay on the tree for a long time, often well into November.

The beauty, refined character and 'collective happiness' of the Albizia julibrissin are reminiscent of the story of the Little Prince (Le Petit Prince) and his rose.

“The shrub soon stopped growing, and began to get ready to produce a flower. The little prince, who was present at the first appearance of a huge bud, felt at once that some sort of miraculous apparition must emerge from it. But the flower was not satisfied to complete the preparations for her beauty in the shelter of her green chamber. She chose her colors with the greatest care. She dressed herself slowly. She adjusted her petals one by one. She did not wish to go out into the world all rumpled, like the field poppies. It was only in the full radiance of her beauty that she wished to appear. Oh, yes! She was a coquettish creature! And her mysterious adornment lasted for days and days.

Then one morning, exactly at sunrise, she suddenly showed herself.

And, after working with all this painstaking precision, she yawned and said:

"Ah! I am scarcely awake. I beg that you will excuse me. My petals are still all disarranged..."

But the little prince could not restrain his admiration:

"Oh! How beautiful you are!"

- The Little Prince, Chapter 8 (source)

Your own Albizia

To raise an Albizia you need angelic patience. But after all that care, the reward is all the greater. “All the time you spent on your rose makes your rose so important,” is the moral of the story. And so it is with the Albizia: in a few years, one day in July - when it is in full bloom and shows you its beauty - you will love it like never before. Money doesn't make you happy, but the Albizia will make your life more rich.

A tree of collective happiness that belongs in every backyard! The Albizia julibrissin is hardy and can reach a height of six to eight meters in the Netherlands. Little space in the backyard? It can also be enjoyed to the full in pots on the balcony or terrace. Happiness can be found in the little things, and starts with an Albizia julibrissin through the mailbox :).

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