Cleome rutidosperma: Fringed spider flower

Family: Cleomaceae
Common name: Fringed spider flower, Purple cleome

A small herb with erect stems and beautiful purple or blue flowers, Fringed spider flowers are very commonly seen in backyards and open areas. They can grow to a height of 50-100 cms with a branched, green stem.

Leaves are trifoliolate, having 3 leaflets in a triangular pattern. Each leaflet is 2-5 cms long and roughly diamond-shaped. They contain sparse white hairs along the edges and both surfaces.

Flowers are very small, about 1 cm in diameter with 4 upwardly pointed petals that are arranged on one side in a fan-like fashion. The flowers have prominent stamens and style at the center. Stamens are 6 in number, white with a black tip.

Fringer spider flowers are mostly purple or blue in color and zygomorphic, or bilaterally symmetrical which means that they can be cut into equal halves only along a single line.

The fruits are very interesting and unique. They are long, tubular, green, about 5-7 cms long, and pointy at both ends. Seeds are arranged very close to each other in two compartments inside the fruits, and are initially white, later turning brown and then black.

The fruits have 2 visible lines on either side which splits open to release the seeds. Once mature the outer surface of the fruits show small bumps where the seed pushes against the fruit wall.

Fringed spider flower plants branch well and can spread very quickly since the seeds are dispersed effectively through wind, water and animals. They can grow as dense clumps on the ground, or even as epiphytes on other plants.

They are considered invasive weeds, especially in agricultural land. But they are easy to remove by hand plucking the plant before it starts flowering.

Though invasive, fringed spider flower plants have some medicinal uses in the treatment of convulsions, malaria, earache, inflammations, skin ailments, prickly heat, and stomach disorders. Leaves are cooked and eaten, and also used as herbs in soups and savory dishes.

Propagation is through seeds.