A new cleome called Senorita Rosalita is a radical departure from the cleomes, or spider flowers, we have grown in the past.
Spider flower (Cleome hassleriana) is a traditional summer annual grown in the South for generations. Tall, robust plants growing three to five feet tall, with hand-shaped leaves, produce large heads of delicate flowers. The long stamens extending out of the flowers like spider legs give the plant its common name.
Despite its popularity, the spider flower has some drawbacks. The foliage has a somewhat unpleasant, sticky feel to it. And as anyone will tell you who handled the plants, tiny spines wait to prick the unsuspecting gardener. When they are in their prime, these stately plants are magnificent, with the flower heads in shades of purple, pink or white. But sadly, the plants become leggy and awkward as they age. In addition, these plants’ prolific seed production can lead to unwanted reseeding.
There have been no dramatic changes to spider flowers over the years – beyond types that were somewhat shorter and had improved flowering. But everything changes with the introduction of the cleome Senorita Rosalita.
The LSU AgCenter has named Senorita Rosalita a Louisiana Super Plants selection for spring 2011. This exciting new breakthrough variety introduces a whole new type of cleome to Louisiana gardeners.
Plant breeders hybridized Cleome hassleriana with other Cleome species, and the results are an exceptional plant for hot Louisiana summers. Senorita Rosalita cleome, from Proven Winners, is smaller-growing and more refined than the old-fashioned spider flower. At two to four feet tall and about two feet wide, it not only is shorter, it also is much fuller and bushier than other spider flowers.
The foliage is smaller and darker green, making the plant appear finer and less coarse-textured. The plants stay full and bushy to the ground all summer and do not become leggy over time like spider flower plants. That’s one of the great things about Senorita Rosalita – the plant stays so attractive for such an extended period of time.
The flowers and flower heads also are smaller. This might seem to be a negative, but they are produced in such large numbers that the effect is still very nice – although quite different from traditional spider flowers. The color of the flowers is a nice medium lavender-pink.
Despite the abundant production of flowers, the hybrid nature of this cleome makes it sterile, and it does not produce any seeds. This does two great things. First, there are no problems with seeds falling to the ground and producing unwanted volunteers. In addition, when annuals set seeds it discourages more flowering. The plant begins to put effort into developing the seeds that have been set rather than continuing to flower. Since Senorita Rosalita does not produce seeds, flower production never slows and continues from the time of planting until fall.
Another welcome change is that Senorita Rosalita is spineless. That’s right, no more surprise pricks when grooming or working around the plants.
You need to plant this cleome in a sunny bed with good drainage. Cleomes are not prone to any major insect or disease problems and will tolerate just about anything except a soil that stays too wet. Prepare the bed with generous amounts of organic matter and a light sprinkling of general-purpose fertilizer. Make sure beds are built up at least six to eight inches above the surrounding soil to ensure good drainage.
Water them regularly as needed for the first few weeks while the plants get established, but be cautious. If you water them too much, they will languish and do poorly. These plants do not want to be pampered. Once they are established, you will need to water these drought-tolerant plants only during very dry weather. It is best to water deeply and thoroughly occasionally than with frequent, light irrigations.
The plants are self-grooming and do not need deadheading, saving lots of time and effort. Heat is not an issue, and the foliage and flowers stay attractive and hold up beautifully through the hottest summer weather.
Gardeners who are interested in attracting butterflies and hummingbirds to their gardens will want to add this plant to their beds. The flowers provide nectar these colorful creatures crave.
With its beautiful flowers, excellent disease resistance, attractive growth habit and low maintenance requirements, Senorita Rosalita cleome is a well-justified and welcome addition to Louisiana Super Plants. Look for it at local nurseries near signs with the Super Plants logo.
The Louisiana Super Plants program is an educational and marketing campaign of the LSU AgCenter that highlights tough and beautiful plants that perform well in Louisiana landscapes. New selections are announced and promoted each year in spring and fall. Louisiana Super Plants have a proven track record, having gone through years of university evaluations and/or years of observations by industry professionals.
For more information, contact Dr. Chris Robichaux, county agent/area horticulturist, St. Martin/Iberia Parishes, at 332-2181 or 369-4440.