Cleomaceae Plant Family

About the Cleomaceae or Spider Flower Family

The Cleomaceae family, also known as the spiderflower family, is a group of flowering plants that includes approximately 300 species. These plants are typically found in tropical and subtropical regions around the world, with the highest diversity in South America. The family is known for its spiky inflorescences and distinctive flowers, which have four petals and six stamens. Many species within the Cleomaceae family are cultivated as ornamental plants, while others are used for medicinal or culinary purposes.

Taxonomy and Classification

The Cleomaceae family belongs to the order Brassicales and is closely related to other families such as Capparaceae, Brassicaceae, and Resedaceae. Within the Cleomaceae family, there are at least 10 recognized genera, including Cleome, Gynandropsis, and Polanisia. Some taxonomists include these genera in the larger Capparaceae family. The family is characterized by its unique flowers, which have four petals and six stamens that are often fused into pairs. The leaves of many species are compound and can have up to 15 leaflets. There are no major subfamilies or groups within the Cleomaceae family.

Morphology and Characteristics

Plants within the Cleomaceae family are diverse in their appearance and morphology. They can be annual or perennial herbs, shrubs, or small trees. The leaves are typically alternate and compound, with three to 15 leaflets that can be entire or have toothed margins. The flowers of the Cleomaceae family are unique, with four petals that are often clawed and six stamens that are fused into pairs. The inflorescence is often a spike or raceme, and the fruits are capsules that split open to release the seeds. Some species within the family have prickly stems or foliage, which may serve as a defense against herbivores.

Distribution and Habitat

The Cleomaceae family is found around the world, with a higher diversity in tropical and subtropical regions. The family is most diverse in South America, where many species are endemic. Some species are also found in Africa, Asia, and Australia. The distribution of plants within the family can be influenced by specific environmental conditions or preferences. For example, some species prefer moist habitats such as streambanks or wetlands, while others are adapted to drier conditions such as sandy soils or rocky outcrops. Many species within the family are also commonly found in disturbed areas such as roadsides and fields.

Economic and Ecological Importance

The Cleomaceae family has both economic and ecological importance. Many species within the family are cultivated as ornamental plants, including Cleome hassleriana, which is commonly grown in gardens for its showy flowers. Some species are also used for medicinal purposes, such as Cleome viscosa, which has been used to treat a variety of ailments including fever and digestive issues. The family also plays an important ecological role, with some species providing habitat and food sources for pollinators and other wildlife. Some species within the family have been introduced to new areas and are considered invasive, such as Cleome spinosa in parts of North America.

Notable Species

There are several noteworthy species within the Cleomaceae family:

  • Cleome serrulata: Also known as Rocky Mountain beeplant, this species is native to North America and is an important food source for bees and other pollinators. The plant can grow up to 1 meter tall and has pink or purple flowers.

  • Polanisia dodecandra: This species, also known as Clammyweed, is found throughout much of North America. It has small white flowers that are followed by spiky fruits. The plant is considered a weed in some areas but has been used medicinally by indigenous people for a variety of purposes.

  • Cleome viscosa: This species, also known as Tickweed or Shoo- is found throughout much of the Americas. It has showy pink flowers and is used in traditional medicine to treat fever, respiratory ailments, and digestive issues.

  • Gynandropsis gynandra: This species, also known as Cleome gynandra or African cabbage, is widely cultivated in Africa and Asia as a leafy vegetable. The plant has small white flowers and edible leaves that are rich in vitamins and minerals.

  • Cleome spinosa: Also known as Spiderflower, this species is native to South America but has been introduced to parts of North America and is considered invasive in some areas. It has showy pink or purple flowers and is often grown as an ornamental plant.