Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Phlox they're are not, but Spider Flowers or Cleomes they must Be!

My friend, the wonderful and talented artist, Marie Christine Katz, wrote to Zingertales with this question and suggestion --
Hello Ana,
As I was walking back from Joris’ school this morning, I saw these beautiful flowers.
photo by marie christine katz

I would love to know their names, how to plant them, and care for them, etc... 
So I thought that as part of your blog it would be wonderful to have 
“A what is its name?” or a... “How to element,” where you or your reader could bring in their knowledge of plants...

Just a thought...
Bise, mc

Dearest Marie Christine,
At first glance I believed these flowers to be Phlox but after taking a closer look I learned that they were indeed, Cleomes. A flower that I had seen but did not have knowledge of. After a few hours of investigation here is what I was able to discover.
photo by ana traina

Cleomes are tall, striking herbaceous plants that gets it's nickname, “Spider Flowers,” from the spidery-like flowers with long, waving stamen which are held on a tall, strong and ticklish leafy stems. This member of the Cleomaceae family grows up to 5 feet tall (1.5 m) and reseeds itself each year to form large clusters of plants. Flowers are most likely to bloom from midsummer until frost in shades of pink, rose, purple and white, then turn into long finger-like pods of seeds that burst open when dry and brown. They are native to the southern United States and South America.
Although cleomes are annuals, they can be mistaken for perennials, because their good reseeding habit means they frequently return every year. 
These annuals will grow in just about any soil and withstand toughest drought conditions well. They prefer full sun but will grow in partial shade, though they may not bloom as profusely as in areas where they receive a full day of sunshine. However, their height makes them very unsuitable as potted plants. 
Cleomes are fairly easy to grow, but they can be unpredictable when starting from seed. They do best when refrigerated for a few days before being planted. Their germination rate is staggered, with seedlings appearing gradually over the course of a few weeks, though the shoots may appear after about a week. But they much prefer to be directly seeded outdoors in spring, after the soil has warmed. Cleome seeds should be barely covered with soil and kept well-watered until they sprout.
They make excellent and long-lasting cut flowers if conditioned by soaking them in very warm water, but the scent of the cleome plant is very strong, with various opinions regarding what it resembles. While some say it has a minty aroma, others compare it to the scent of a skunk or very musky. Still others say it smells like cat urine. The smell is strong enough to discourage many gardeners from growing cleomes at all.
The Violet Queen, Cherry Queen, Pink Queen and Helen Campbell (white) are among the most popular.
Staking is usually not necessary, and they are not bothered by pesky pests and nasty disease. Protection from strong winds is most advisable. They are the absolute favorite of hummingbirds. 

I would like to invite all the curious and unusual zingertale’s readers to write to me with your questions and suggestions!
Most Zingerly Yours,
Ana