Rocky Mountain Bee Plant – Cleome serrulata
At first glance Rocky Mountain bee plant might appear to be an import from an alien planet. The big pink blooms, with long seed capsules dangling down like legs, atop a spindly stalk are unlike many other plants. So why do we have this plant at the Idaho Botanical Garden? Well, despite its otherworldly appearance Rocky Mountain bee plant is a North American native. It can be found growing from British Columbia all the way down to Arizona and New Mexico.
Cleome serrulata can grow up to five feet tall, which is impressive considering it does all this growing in one season. As an annual it is imperative that bee plant be left alone to go to seed in order to ensure more plants the next year. And indeed, part of the plant’s charm lies in its seed pods. As a relative of mustard, the seeds look distinctly Brassica-y, developing into slender green pods that slowly dry out as the summer continues. To save seed from this plant simply pluck the dried pods off before they split open and launch their goods into the earth to slumber over the winter. Once the tiny trifoliate leaves begin to emerge in late spring, only minimal watering is needed to keep this species alive as it prefers dry conditions and partial shade to full sun.
As befitting its name, you may also notice that a number of pollinators find Rocky Mountain bee plant highly attractive. As part of its annual push to ensure pollination, Cleome produces abundant nectar, making it palatable to many pollinators. Here at the garden we have seen honey bees, bumblebees, wasps, and even ants attending to the bright pink flowers. To get a closer look at this amazing, long-blooming native, stop into the garden before the end of the summer!
See Cleome serrulata blooming in the Idaho Native Plant Garden, as well as some non-native Cleome species blooming in the English Garden.
Written by IBG gardener, Anna Lindquist.