The spider flower (Cleome spinosa) is originally from the tropical Americas and the Caribbean. It is also called spider legs or grandfather’s whiskers. This is a strongly scented annual that is sticky to the touch. The plant grows from three to five feet high. It spreads two to four feet wide. The leaves are a medium green. The flowers are white, yellow, pink, or violet. The plant blooms mid-summer to early fall. The stamens grow to a long length, giving the spider flower its name. The spider flower is a prolific self-seeder, so if you want to keep it tamed, be sure to deadhead the flowers before the seeds ripen and spill everywhere.
The spider flower is not picky about where it grows. It likes full sun, but appreciates afternoon shade in hot areas. It will also tolerate partial shade.
This flower is drought tolerate and will grow well in poor soil. The spider plant grows best in soil with a pH of 6.6 to 7.8. It makes a nice, bright addition to your xeriscape. The spider flower does best when watered once a week, however.
The spider flower is very fragrant. In fact, it is so fragrant as to be offensive to some people. Plant away from doors to avoid the fragrance invading the home. While the spider flower is beautiful, the strong fragrance may prevent it from being used as a cut flower. The plant does attract beneficial insects, hummingbirds, and butterflies.
The spider flower may be planted inside four to six weeks before the last frost. It germinates when the soil reaches 70 to 75 degrees. The seedlings emerge seven to fourteen days later. Seedlings should be planted outside after all danger of frost has past. Seeds can be direct sown outdoors after all danger of frost has passed.
Seeds can be collected by allowing the seed pods to ripen and turn brown then collecting them. Store in a glass jar in a cool place before sowing. Seeds need to be stratified before sowing. Sand them gently until the outside of the seed is weakened in one area. This helps the seed germinate.
Spider flowers may require staking to keep them upright. They tend to get leggy. Shorter flowers should be planted around the spider flower to disguise this.
If you purchase spider flowers in cell packs, they may grow slowly or not at all since the roots may have been so crowded they have stopped growing.
Use gloves when handling spider flower as the stalks are often hairy and can cause skin irritation.
When planting spider flowers, you may want to use several different colors planted together to really show them off.
There are three cultivars of spider flowers that you can choose from. The “Queen” series has a variety of colors on plants that are three to four feet tall. They will make a hedge if planted close together in rows.
The ‘Serrulato Solo’ is the only spineless spider flower. It has pinkish white flowers.
The ‘Helen Campbell’ is the last of the three cultivars. It produces large, pure white flowers on 4’ tall plants. This plant is very showy.