Rocky Mountain Bee Plant is a very common annual wildflower in the Cleome Family. (More recently it has been classified in the Mustard Family.) During mid-summer it litters roadsides, standing tall, branching out, and offering its sweet nectar to the sky. And bees do love bee plant, making it an excellent choice for those concerned about declining bee populations. You may find whole swarms of them covering the flowers, in addition to swallowtail and hummingbird visitors.
Another name for bee plant is Beeweed. Left unchecked, this wildflower CAN become weedy because it’s hardy and self-sows by seed. To prevent beeweed from crowding your garden, pull out any young shoots that sprout up. These tender young greens can be eaten after boiling in a few changes of water. In fact, that is how it received its other name: Navajo Spinach.
Navajo Spinach saved its people from starvation on several occasions and is still used as an edible wild green to this day. If you taste a leaf unboiled, you will soon discover WHY the leaves are cooked. Bee plant has a very pungent smell and taste that can easily be compared to skunk spray. (Appetizing, no?) Hence the other name: Skunkweed. The Spanish have also used bee plant in times of famine by making tortillas from the small seeds. All this makes rocky mountain bee plant a true friend and life saver for both humans and bees.
How To Identify Rocky Mountain Bee Plant
Traditionally Caper or Cleome – More recently reclassified as Mustard Family.
Usually 3-4 feet high, but I have seen some as tall as 5 feet, and very rarely even taller than that.
Begins to branch a few inches from the ground.
Tall, not hairy.
Can be green, bronze-green, pink, or red.
Compound, made of 3 linear or lanceolate leaflets.
Each leaflet is 1/2 to 3” long.
Strong, pungent smell, and a bit skunky.
Each flower is apx 1/2″, ranging from pink to purple. I’ve heard the flowers occasionally come out pure white, but I’ve never seen one. Have you? Please leave a comment if you have!
Each flower has 4 petals and 6 long stamen with a tiny tiny round ball at the end – the ovary.
There are several flowers atop each stem, forming rounded clusters. (It gives the impression of a single, fuzzy-looking flower with many, many small petals. )
Looks similar to a peapod, only smaller and filled with small brownish seeds.
Pods are 1.5 to 2 .5″ long.
June thru September or October
Native to Western North America.
Very common along roadsides.
Arid environments such as deserts, plains, and range lands.
Foothills of lower mountains.
Disturbed, waste, and vacant areas.
Found in elevations below 8,000 feet.
Wild sunflowers, wild grasses, and rabbit brush.
Ponderosa, gamble oak, pinyon, and juniper trees.
Other Types of Bee Plants
Yellow bee plant is very similar, though the flowers are yellow (duh!) and it has more leaflets. It is often found near water rather than the dry areas of rocky mountain bee plant. Yellow bee plant may also grow up to 1 foot taller than the rocky mountain variety.
Bee Balm is another plant loved by bees, however it is an entirely different wildflower with square stems and is from the mint family.
Bee plant is bother edible and medicinal. The young leaves and shoots are a good source of vitamin A and they can be used to treat stomach aches.
A dye can be made from boiling the leaves, as the Navajo and Pueblo people did.
Attracts bees, butterflies, wasps, and sometimes humming birds.
Livestock do not graze on this plant, but I haven’t heard any mention of it being poisonous to them.
Water-wise, xeriscape, low maintenance, and drought-resistant wildflower.
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Are you planning on growing bee plant? Have you grown bee plant? Do you love it or hate it? Let us know in the comment section below!