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Plants of the Caper Family

      The Rocky Mountain bee plant (Cleome serrulata) of the Caper family is one of my favorite roadside plants, growing in cheery purple patches that often string along the roadside for miles where there are sedimentary soils. Stop the car to investigate and you will find a plant with flowers similar to the Mustard family, leaves like the Pea family, and seed capsules that look like they might be from either family.

      This is a highly diverse, mostly tropical family. Most genera in North America are herbs or shrubs with trifoliate, alternate leaves, like those shown above. The flowers are regular or slightly irregular, and bisexual with 4 separate sepals, 4 separate petals and 4 to numerous stamens. The ovary is positioned superior and consists of 2 united carpels (bicarpellate) forming a single chamber. It matures as a capsule (sometimes a berry) with 1 or more kidney-shaped seeds. Worldwide, there are 46 genera and 800 species. Many species are adapted to desert or tropical conditions. Only Cleome and Polanisia are widespread across North America. A species of Capparis supplies the capers used in cooking

Key Words: Pea-like plants with flower parts in fours and mustard-like pods.

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Cleome serrulata. Rocky Mountain Beeplant. An annual, native wildflower. Intermittently common across the Rocky Mountains. Often found along roadsides.

Cleome serrulata. Rocky Mountain Beeplant.

Cleome hasslerana. Spider Flower. An annual, cultivated flower, native to South America. Contributed by Mike McCracken of Alabama.

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