Cleome serrulata Pursh
Peritoma serrulata (Pursh) DC.
Cleome serrulata Pursh var. angusta (M.E. Jones) Tidestr.
Rocky mountain beeplant, stinkweed, stinking clover, Navajo spinach
I slammed on the brakes when I first saw these arresting wildflowers along Rte 117 in the El Malpais National Monument Badlands in New Mexico. They are North American natives, often found along roadsides, in disturbed soils, in meadows, or in rangelands. They prefer dryer climates at elevations of 3000-9500' (914-2895 m).
The Lewis and Clark Expedition collected samples in South Dakota in 1804, later examined and described by Frederick Tarugott Pursh and included in his monumental Flora Americae Septentrionalis in 1814. Southwestern Indian tribes extract a yellow-green dye from the plants, used for wool rugs and blankets. Concentrated further by boiling, the dye makes a thick black resin that is used to paint designs on pottery or baskets.
Plants: A single erect stem is 4-59" (10-150 cm) in height.
Leaves: Arranged spirally. Each leaf has three leaflets (trifoliate), often with tiny teeth. Each leaflet is ⅜-2½" (1-7 cm) long.
Flowers: Flowerheads are a spray of lavendar or pink flowers, each with four petals and four darker sepals. Green-tipped purplish stamens poke out from each flower. Almost looks like an exploding firework! Flowers appear from May to September.
Fruits: Capsules similar to beanpods are 1-3" (2.5-7.6 cm) long. Each contains several seeds.
Edibility: Southwestern Indian tribes used these plants for potherbs. Seeds are edible raw or cooked, ground to make gruels or bread. Leaves, flowers and shoots can be cooked and eaten as a cooked vegetable or added to cornmeal porridge, though the bitter, unpleasant taste of the leaves is often masked with chilis. (There are many unsavory names for the plant’s odor. Go figure.) Plants are high in vitamin A and calcium. Note: the plant is high in nitrates and can cause nitrate/nitrite poisoning if consumed in large quantities.
Medical: Teas made from the plants were used to treat fevers and stomach ailments.
Cleome serrulata on santafebotanicalgarden.org
Cleome serrulata at the U.S. Forest Service Celebrating Wildflowers site
Cleome serrulata on Wikipedia
Cleome serrulata at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Cleome serrulata on www.nrcs.usda.gov (PDF)
Cleome serrulata on www.gothichorrorstories.com
Cleome serrulata description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 25 May 2020.