Cleome serrulata Pursh

by Kirsten Swinski, Native Plants Class 2002
Common names:
Rocky Mountain beeplant, blue Colorado beeweed, stink flower, spider plant, guaco, stinking clover, bee spider plant, skunkweed, wild spinach, Indian spinach, pink cleome.
Family: Capparaceae
Synonymy: Cleome serrulata Pursh var. angusta (M.E. Jones) Tidestrom
Etymology: “Cleome” is of Greek origin and comes from “kleio” meaning to enclose. The specific epithet “serrulata” means “little saw”, referring to serrated leaf margins (5).

Growth form:
Rocky Mountain beeplant is an erect, annual herb that can grow up to 3 ½ ft tall.
Roots: Shallow taproot with small lateral roots contain many turpines and have a strong smell when uprooted (4).
Stems: Stems branch a few inches from ground, purple-green when young and olive-green to yellow-green at maturity (2).
Leaves: Leaves alternate, palmately compound with 3 (sometimes 5) leaflets, leaflets up to 3” long with entire or serrate margins (3).
Inflorescence/flowers: Inflorescences racemose, 2–10” long x 2–3” wide. Flowers pink to purple (white in higher altitudes), ½ “ long, 4 clawed petals and 6 stamen that exceed the petals’ length (3).
Fruit: Fruit are dry, narrow pods reaching lengths of 2.5”. Seeds are blackish-brown mottled and elliptical (3).
Similar species: Cleome lutea, yellow beeplant, is a close relative of Rocky Mountain beeplant. They look very similar except C.lutea flowers are distinctly yellow rather than purplish-pink. Cleome lutea has a compound leaf with 5 leaflets whereas C.serrulata usually only has 3 leaflets (3).

Life history:
Rocky Mountain Beeplant is a short-lived, weedy annual (6).
Native/introduced: Native (6).
Photosynthetic pathway:
Flowers from mid-June to September (3).
Distribution: 4500–7000 ft, from Saskatchewan, south to Arizona, east to Kansas, and west to Oregon (2).

Seeds eaten by birds, flowers pollinated be bees and hummingbirds. Flowers are an excellent source for honey (3). Plant can concentrate nitrates and potentially cause “silo-fillers” disease if ensiled and fed to livestock in large quantities (7).
Ethnobotanical Uses: Rocky Mountain Beeplant is sometimes cultivated by beekeepers because of its excellent source of nectar (1). Young leaves were an important food source to Pueblo Indians. Dried leaves were used as a deodorant, and a poultice made to heal wounds, sore eyes, and stomach disorders. Rocky Mountain Beeplant is also used as a dye plant (yellow-green or black, depending on preparation) (2).

1. Bowers, Janice E. 1989. 100 Desert Wildflowers of the Southwest. Tucson, AZ: Southwest Parks and Monuments Association.

2. Dunmire, William W. and Gail D. Tierney. 1997. Wild Plants and Native Peoples of the Four Corners. Santa Fe, NM: Museum of New Mexico Press.

3. Epple, A.O. 1995. A Field Guide to Plants of Arizona. Guilford, CT: The Globe Pequot Press.

4. Hogan, Phyllis and Kristin Huisinga. 1999. An Annotated Catolog of the Native and Naturalized Flora of Arizona. Flagstaff, AZ: Arizona Ethnobotanical Research Association.

5. Kindscher, Kelly. 1992. Medicinal Wild Plants of the Prairie. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas.

6. USDA, NRCS. 2002. The PLANTS Database, Version 3.5 ( National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.

7. USGS, Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center. 2002. “Native Wildflowers of the North Dakota Grasslands”. ( Jamestown, ND.

© Charles A. Washburn