Homestead Stories: The Spider Flower

“You know I don’t really like spiders.”

I scowled as my friend led me around her garden. Large or small, spiders really do give me the creeps, and sometimes they bite. Yuck! I do know they have a purpose. Just as long as that purpose does not include me.

My friend stopped in front of her new addition. “What do you think?”

I cringed.

“Is that a spider on the top of the stem?” It certainly looked like a spider. I leaned in a little closer but not too close in case it jumped at me. Some spiders do jump, after all.

A hummingbird hovered nearby, and I froze. I assumed my friend did too.

spider flower
romana klee / Flickr (Creative Commons)

The bird must have sensed we were safe, because it flew in closer; its tiny wings vibrating with ferocity. Then it stuck its beak into the spider-topped plant.

“I didn’t know hummingbirds ate spiders,” I remarked.

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My friend chuckled softly; loud enough to startle the hummingbird which quickly fluttered away. “It wasn’t eating the spider, because it’s not a spider — it’s a flower. One that looks like a spider.”

“Oh!” I didn’t want to be impressed, but I begrudgingly had to admit this flower was impressive. Even if it did look like a spider perched on a tall stem.

Ted / Flickr (Creative Commons)

“It’s actually a cleome,” my friend explained. “But most people call them spider plants. I only have the white one for now. There are also pink, purple, and lavender colors available. Different, don’t you think?”

“Unusual,” I agreed.

“Not the most popular plant in the nursery,” she continued. “It was marked down for sale so I took a chance. Didn’t really know what to expect, but I’m delighted.”

My friend was always one to incorporate new and different flowers into her garden. The spider flower was the latest addition, and unusual didn’t come close to describing it. I wasn’t sure if I wanted a spider plant in my garden; not with my dislike of real live spiders. But it was an interesting possibility.

spider flower
Michele Dorsey Walfred / Flickr (Creative Commons)

Due to its weedy appearance when first growing, the spider flower or cleome (from the family cleomaceae), Rocky Mountain bee plant, and stinking clover, can’t compete with the more dignified six-pack flats of marigolds or impatiens. However, looking beyond its youth, this plant can easily become a conversation piece to add to your garden. And for those like myself who hate spiders, this might be an alternative to the ones that crawl and bite.

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Cleomes are easy to grow and require minimal care once they’re started. Its fern-like foliage, which provides a weedy appearance until the flowers appear, is tall and makes the flower an interesting backdrop to any garden. It likes full to partial sun, well-drained soil, and as an annual, it needs to be re-seeded every year.

Dinesh Valke / Flickr (Creative Commons)

If planted in a shady area, the plant will become too tall to support the flowers and will probably fall over. Seeds can be planted in either the spring or the autumn. The seeds need light to germinate, so once the frost is gone, the plants will start appearing within 10 days.

Cleomes are almost too easy to grow since the seeds spread and will likely invade other garden areas and take over. If you allow the plants to re-seed themselves, you may want to thin the crop each year. Leaving about 18 inches between plants will encourage a healthier crop.

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Cleomes offer pollination to both hummingbirds and butterflies. It even attracts what is known as a hummingbird moth which darts about much like a hummingbird, but usually at twilight.

USFWS Mountain-Prairie / Flickr (Creative Commons)

The flower, when it appears, has many petals that form a cluster radiating from a central point. The long stamens give the flowers a spiky look and add to its spider-like appearance. Spider flowers make a unique addition to any garden, and mix well with zinnias and black-eyed Susans for a naturalized meadow look. They will even do well in a container as a centerpiece to trailing flowers like petunias.

And best yet, the plant is drought resistant and will be perfectly happy in an area that is prone to intense sun and drought at the peak of the summer season. It is also pest and disease resistant. The spider flower is definitely a plant that cares for itself and requires little attention other than to enjoy its unique flowers.

Written by Emily-Jane Hills Orford

Emily-Jane Hills Orford is an award-winning author of several books, including Gerlinda (CFA 2016) which received an Honorable Mention in the 2016 Readers’ Favorite Book Awards, To Be a Duke (CFA 2014) which was named Finalist and Silver Medalist in the 2015 Next Generation Indie Book Awards and received an Honorable Mention in the 2015 Readers’ Favorite Book Awards. She writes about the extra-ordinary in life and her books, short stories, and articles are receiving considerable attention. For more information on the author, check out her website at: https://emilyjanebooks.ca

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