Cleome serrulata

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Cleome serrulata
Cleome serrulata.jpg
Conservation status

Secure (NatureServe)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Brassicales
Family: Cleomaceae
Genus: Cleome
Species: C. serrulata
Binomial name
Cleome serrulata
Pursh (1814)

Peritoma serrulata DC.
Cleome integrifolia Torr. & Gray

Cleome serrulata (syn. Peritoma serrulata) is a species of Cleome native to western North America from southern British Columbia, east to Minnesota and Illinois, and south to New Mexico and northernmost California. It is also naturalized farther east in North America.[1][2][3] Its common names include Rocky Mountain beeplant, stinking-clover,[4] bee spider-flower,[5] skunk weed,[6] and Navajo spinach.[7]


It is an annual plant growing to 10–150 cm (4–60 in) tall, with spirally arranged leaves. The leaves are trifoliate, with three slender leaflets each 1–7 cm (0.4-2.75 in) long. The flowers are reddish-purple, pink, or white, with four petals and six long stamens. The fruit is a capsule 3–6 cm (1-2.4 in) long containing several seeds.[1][2]


In 1817, Frederick Traugott Pursh described this species in the first volume of Flora Americae Septentrionalis.[8]

In the first volume of Prodromus Systematis Naturalis Regni Vegetabilis in 1824 Augustin Pyramus de Candolle moved this species into his idea of what the genus Peritoma should be, calling it Peritoma serrulatum.[9]

In 1901, Edward Lee Greene built a genus of Cleome species based on Candolle's Peritoma, including this species as Peritoma serrulatum DC. and Peritoma lutem Raf. Other species that were included have since been determined to be synonyms of these species.[10]


It has been used in the southwestern U.S. as a food, medicine, or dye since prehistoric times and is one of very few wild foods still in use. As food, its seeds can been eaten raw or cooked, or dried and ground into meal for use as a mush. The leaves, flowers and shoots can be cooked and eaten as a cooked vegetable or added to cornmeal porridge. As medicine, an infusion of the plant is used to treat stomach troubles and fevers, and poultices made from it can be used on the eyes. As a dye, the plant can be boiled down until it is reduced to a thick, black syrup; this was used as a binder in pigments for painting pottery.[11][12][13] The plant is called waa’ in the Navajo language. Its scientific description was based on specimens collected on the Lewis and Clark Expedition.[14]

Among the Zuni people, the leaves gathered in large quantities and hung indoors to dry for winter use.[15] The young leaves are cooked with corn strongly flavored with chili.[16][17] Plant paste is used with black mineral paint to color sticks of plume offerings to anthropic gods,[18] and the whole plant except for the root used in pottery decorations.[19]



  1. ^ a b E-Flora BC: Plants of British Columbia: Cleome serrulata
  2. ^ a b The Jepson eFlora 2013. Peritoma serrulata
  3. ^ USDA Plants Profile: Cleome serrulata
  4. ^ Peritoma serrulata. Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN).
  5. ^ Cleome serrulata. NatureServe. 2012.
  6. ^ Cleome serrulata. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. University of Texas at Austin. 2013.
  7. ^ Prendusi, T. Rocky Mountain Bee Plant (Cleome serrulata). Celebrating Wildflowers. USDA Forest Service. 2011.
  8. ^ Flora Americae Septentrionalis (1817), page 441
  9. ^ Prodromus Systematis Naturalis Regni Vegetabilis, 1824. page 237.
  10. ^ Pittonia (1901), page 208
  11. ^ Northern Arizona University Paleoethnobotany Manual: Bee Weed (V. Cornell)
  12. ^ Plants for a Future: Cleome serrulata
  13. ^ Northern Arizona University Paleoethnobotany Manual: Beeweed (L. Caruthers)
  14. ^ Native Wildflowers of the North Dakota Grasslands: Rocky Mountain Beeplant (Cleome serrulata)
  15. ^ Stevenson, M. C. 1915 Ethnobotany of the Zuni Indians. SI-BAE Annual Report #30 (p.69)
  16. ^ Castetter, E. F. 1935. Ethnobiological Studies in the American Southwest I. Uncultivated Native Plants Used as Sources of Food. University of New Mexico Bulletin 4(1), 1-44 (p.24).
  17. ^ Stevenson, p.69
  18. ^ Stevenson, p.96
  19. ^ Stevenson, p.82
Taxonomy references