The Garden Guy – Cup Plant

Honey bees on the cup plant flowers. (Photo by Norman Winter)

Cup Plant – One Stop Cafe for Birds and Pollinators

By Norman Winter

When it comes to the backyard wildlife habit, the cup plant does it all. To me, it is like the flag bearer perennial for bees, butterflies and birds. It is a stalwart native in 34 states including those that border states around Texas, minus New Mexico and could be just the plant needed for North Texas farm and ranch landscapes.

However, its size makes you feel like it is the composite, or aster if you will, that ate New York. It is big, bold and wonderful and this is the time of the year it shines the most. If you are getting interested but are unfamiliar with the cup plant, it is known botanically as Silphium perfoliatum, and, as I alluded above, cold hardy from zones three to nine. It can grow tall, four to 10 feet and colonizes, so it is a plant for the back of the border.

Though it may be hard to imagine, they can dwarf a brown-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia triloba, or a Brazilian sage, Salvia guaranitica, both also considered large plants and terrific partners for the cup plant.

You may be asking, why is it called a cup plant? This is one of the magical attributes of the plant. As the plant grows, it develops large square stems that give the impression of piercing the center of the large leaves. It’s actually two leaves without petioles that are attached to the stem, forming a perfect cup to collect rainwater. Small birds like finches take advantage of this natural reservoir of water. These same birds also feed on the seeds as they mature and get ready to disperse.

You will find the blooms to be covered in what may best be described as a pollinating frenzy. Every kind of bee, including honeybees by the hundreds, bumble bees, and plenty of those you don’t know, including wasps, are there doing their thing.
You will also notice eastern tiger swallowtails, long-tailed skippers, fiery skippers and yellow sulphur butterflies. It is like a Serengeti for pollinators. You are also likely to find hummingbirds on the plants as well.

To read more pick up a copy of the August 2018 NTFR issue. To subscribe call 940-872-5922.