Spider flower is a tender annual that grows up to 5 ft (1.5 m) in height. The palmate leaves are composed of 5 leaflets each 5-6 in (12.7-15 cm) long. The delicate flowers are held in cluster at the stem tips. Flowers are 1-2 in (2.5-5 cm) wide with long, 2-3 in (5-7.6 cm) graceful stamens that are the "legs" of this spidery flower. The buds at the lower end of the flower stem bloom first and then proceed sequentially toward the tip which continues to grow and extend over the course of the season. Slender seed pods quickly follow the flowers, hanging on long stems they are arranged around the stem like a bottlebush with limp bristles. Selections are available in a range of colors including white, pink, rose and lavender. Many varieties are colored when they bloom and then fade, some to white, over the course of a day. Named cultivars include 'Violet Queen', 'White Queen', 'Rosea', and 'Alba'.
Spider flower is native to an area of South America stretching from southern Brazil west into Argentina. This plant has naturalized in scattered areas across the southeastern U.S.
Cleome prefers light, fertile soils but is adaptable to most conditions (except soggy and persistently moist). Light: Likes bright sunny situations but will tolerate some shade in hot climates. Moisture: Needs well drained soil. Doesn't require a lot of moisture, water when dry. Hardiness: USDA Zones 8 - 11 where it will reseed. Grown as a tender annual in Zones 4-7. Propagation: By seed, start indoors in colder zones and plant in garden when frost has past. Space plants about 1 ft (0.3 m) apart.
'Violet Queen' is a compact varieties whose flowers open violet and then fade to almost white as they age. Click here to download a large version (800x600) of this image.
Use spider flower as a background plant and in borders. Also good in mixed shrub plantings to fill in while shrubs mature. Makes a durable container plant for patio or balcony. Remove spent blossoms to prolong flowering. You can shape spider flower plant to suit your tastes and design needs. For tall slender plants remove the side branches. For shorter, fuller plants remove the central bud when the plant is about 1 ft (0.3 m) tall to encourage side branching.
Spider flower is not bothered by pests and is easy to grow from seed. Cleome is a satisfying plant for new gardeners. The flowers are very attractive and the cleome has a long flowering season(6 months in Florida, 3 months in more northern areas).
You may ocassionally see this plant referred to as Cleome spinosa especially in older gardening publications.
This is a closeup of the spider flower's "legs" (stamens) just emerging as they begin to stretch out into graceful arcs. Click here to download a large version (800x600) of this image.
It's possible that this plant might freak out your friends and neighbors! Until it produces it showy blossoms, spider flower looks very much like a marijuana (Cannabis spp.) plant! A few years ago a high school student wrote to Floridata asking if there were any garden plants that looked like marijuana. They were conducting a mock drug trial at his high school and he was defending a client who an eye witness had testified had marijuana plants. I sent the student lawyer pictures of the spider flower, scarlet hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus) and chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus) all of which resemble the notorious weed in some way. We won - I mean he won the case by demonstrating reasonable doubt that it was marijuana and that the witness may have seen one of these "lookalikes". Case dismissed!
Spider plant will reseed itself and under some conditions may become invasive.