The cleome flower is a genus of annual flowering plants with 170 species in the cleomaceae family. Cleomes are considered subcosmopolitan and may be seen growing in nearly any warm, mild or tropical area throughout the world; however, these plants are thought to originate in regions of South Africa. Because of their sharp, unique flower clusters, these blossoms got the nickname “spider flower.” The aromatic foliage of this plant is rather prickly, and the strong stems can grow up to six feet in height. The flower heads themselves consist of delicate pink, purple or white racemes which contain long stamens. These blossoms are also considered very easy to grow, as they are generally free of pests, and are considered drought tolerant. Despite that fact, however, they grow their best in moist but well drained soil and full sunlight.
The cleome flower has some interesting associations. Now being considered an heirloom plant, they were once a special favorite of Thomas Jefferson, who included them in his Monticello gardens. Despite this fact, though, the cleome flower took awhile to find its actual place. Now a member of the cleomaceae clan, these blossoms were once considered to be a part of the capparaceae family. After extensive DNA research, though, it was discovered that the cleomaceae genera had a closer association with the brassicaceae family. In the broadest sense, the cleomaceae family has 275 species; however, some genera were later taken from this group, as DNA testing weeded out many species which were later discovered to belong to separate plant families – thus leaving a smaller total of 170 true cleome genera. Certain species of the cleome flower, such as cleome gynandra, are considered culinary delicacies, and are also being tested as medicinal plants. Being a surprisingly nutritional green – consisting of calcium, iron, and vitamins A and C – these plants are commonly mixed with other, more flavorful greens, as they are known to have a faintly bitter taste by themselves. In several areas of Africa, these plants are boiled to create relishes, side dishes and stews; while the dried leaves are ground, and the fresh leaves are mashed and given to weaning children. In medicine, aqueous extracts of both vernonia amygdalina and cleome gynandra are being extensively tested for their uses in reproductive health – both of which are showing promise.
Although most flowers have a multitude of symbolism, the cleome flower only has the one. These flowers have stuck with their old-fashioned expression that asks the recipient to elope, or run away with the giver. Although these flowers can be presented as a proposition between new lovers, they are also a unique gift that can be traded between long married couples – asking each other if they would leave the world behind and get married once again.