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A Comprehensive Guide to Cup-Plant (Silphium perfoliatum)

Cup-Plant (Silphium perfoliatum) is a herbaceous perennial that is native to the midwestern United States and the province of Ontario in Canada. This plant is a host to a species of moth and a butterfly and is an important nectar source for other insects. Growing from 3 to 8 feet tall, this species grows in open areas such prairies and disturbed areas. The yellow flowers bloom from July to September and the plant is hardy in zones 3-9.

Taxonomy and Naming of Cup-Plant (Silphium perfoliatum)

Herbarium specimen of cup-plant (Silphium perfoliatum).
Herbarium Specimen — Silphium perfoliatum var. perfoliatum L. collected in United States of America by The New York Botanical Garden (licensed under CC BY 4.0)

Taxonomy

Cup-plant (Silphium perfoliatum) was named and described by Carl von Linnaeus, in 1759. It still has the same name and is a member of the Aster Family (Asteraceae).

Varieties

This species has two varieties (Flora of North America):

  • var. connatum: peduncles (flowering stem) are glabrous
  • var. perfoliatum: peduncles (flowering stem) are scabrous to hispid

Meaning of the Scientific and Common Names

Scientific Name

The genus name, Silphium, is derived from a Greek word that originated from a resin-bearing plant (Missouri Botanical Garden). The species name, perfoliatum, is Latin for the “through the leaf” which .

Common Name and Alternative Names

The common name, Cup-Plant, comes from the cup-like leaves that collect water. The stem goes through the leaves.

Physical Description

Close-up of yellow flower of cup-plant (Silphium perfoliatum).
Yellow Flower of Cup-Plant (Silphium perfoliatum) — Robert Coxe, Image
  • Plant Type: This plant is a herbaceous perennial.
  • Height: 1 to 10 feet tall
  • Stem: The stems are erect, 4-angled, and glabrous to slightly hairy (Wikipedia).
  • Leaves: The leaves are opposite, perfoliate, petiolate to sessile, lanceolate to ovate, and have toothed margins (Flora of North America). The leaves are 1.5 to 23 inches long and 0.4 to 12 inches wide.
  • Flower color: yellow
  • Blooming period: This plant blooms from July to September.
  • Fruiting type and period: This plant has achenes that mature in the late fall and winter.

Range of Cup-Plant in the United States and Canada

Range of cup-plant (Silphium perfoliatum) in the United States and Canada.
Range Map Credit: Kartesz, J.T., The Biota of North America Program (BONAP). 2023.(website https://bonap.org/). Chapel Hill, N.C. [maps generated from Kartesz, J.T. 2023. Floristic Synthesis of North America, Version 1.0. Biota of North America Program (BONAP). (in press)]

This species is native in the mid-western, south-central, and the eastern United States, except for some states and northeast Canada. It is considered to be rare in the states of Louisiana, Michigan, and North Carolina and the province of Ontario in Canada. This species is adventive in the states of Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, and the province of Quebec in Canada. Silphium perfoliatum var. connatum is native to Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina and is rare in each state.

Habitat

Open riverine floodplain.
Open Riverine Floodplain — Leonhard Lenz, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

This species grows in open areas such as prairies (Henry 1985), open forests, distubed places in moist soil (Seymour 1963), wet meadows (Morris 1988), river bottoms/flood terraces (Harger, et al 1922), streambanks (Leidolf, et al 2002 and Braun 1916), thickets (Palmer and Steyermark 1935), and rarely in fen communities (Nekola 1994).

Hosted Insects

Silphium borer moth (Papaimea silphii) on beige background.
Silphium Borer Moth — Papaipema silphii Bird, 1915 observed in United States of America by Matt Kenne (licensed under CC0 1.0)

The members of the Silphium genus are hosts to the bordered patch (Chlosyne lacinia) butterfly in the western United States, the giant eucosma moth (Eucosma gigantea) (Lam, et al 2011), and the silphius borer moth (Papaipema silphii) throughout,. A gall wasp (Antistrophus jeanae) (Tooker, et al 2004) and two tree hoppers (Publilia concava) (Quisenberry, et al 1978) and (Graphocephala coccinea) (Young 1977) also utilize this species.

Other Supported Wildlife

Honeybee on purple flower.
Purple Aster with Honeybee — John Severns (Severnjc), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This species is an important nectar source to other butterflies, skippers, bees, and wasps. A solitary bee (Nomia triangulifera) (Cross 1958) and three long-horned bees (Melissodes coloradensis), (Melissodes agilis), and (Melissodes rustica) (LaBerge 1961) have been noted to nectar on this species.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does this plant have any ethnobotanical uses?

The Native American Ethobotanical Database shows that this species has been used for numerous pharmacautical uses including cold remedies, lung diseases, orthopedics, and others.

How is this plant distinguished from other Rosinweeds (Silphium spp.)?

The perfoliate leaves and square stem serves to separate this species from the others in the genus.

Is this plant invasive?

This plant has been noted as being invasive in some situations. It is considered noxious in the state of Connecticut. It has been listed as a weed by the Weed Society of America (Report 1962), however, while I have found it to be aggressive in its area, I have not found it to be “weedy” in my garden.

Gardening with Cup-Plant

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Cup-plant (Silphium perfoliatum) with bee.
Cup-Plant with a bee on flower — Robert Coxe, Image

Hardiness

This species is hardy in zones 3-9. If your garden is within these zones and you have the right growing conditions (soil, moisture and exposure), you may well be able to grow this plant. However, if planted outside of its range, the hosted species may not recognize the plant or be harmed by ingesting a different species with an unfamiliar chemical composition. For instance, only part of the range of the species overlaps with the bordered patch butterfly. This butterfly would not be benefited by those plants in the east.

Optimal Conditions

This species grows in full sun and prefers medium to wet well-drained soil that is circumneutral (Palmer and Steyermark 1935).

Uses of this Species

This plant has been used in meadow restorations in Virginia (Aronson and Handel 2013).

References

  • Aronson, Myla F.J. and Steven N. Handel. 2013. Designing a Grassland Estate, Cultivating Biodiversity. Ecological Restoration 31(2): 212-216.
  • Braun, E.L. 1916. The physiographic ecology of the Cincinnati Ragion. Bulletin of the Ohio Biological Survey 7: 113-211.
  • Cross, Earle A. 1958. A Revision of the Bees of the Subgenus Epinomia in the New World (Hymenoptera-Halictidae). University of Kansas Science Bulletin 38: 1261-1301.
  • Harger, E.B., Charles Burr Graves, Edwin Hubert Eames, Charles Humphrey Bissell, and Charles Alfred Weatherby. 1922. Additions to the Flora of Connecticut. Series 2. Rhodora 24: 111-121.
  • Henry, R.D. 1985. A Survey of Some Remnants of the Native Flora of West-Central Illinois, USA. Phytologia 57: 97-106.
  • LaBerge, Wallace E. 1961. A Revision of the Bees of the Genus Melissodes in North and Central America. Part III (Hymenoptera, Apidae). The University of Kansas Science Bulletin 42(5): 283-663.
  • Lam, Winnie H.Y., Jadranka Rota, and John W. Brown. 2011. A Preliminary List of the Leaf-Roller Moths (Lepidoptera: Tortricidae) of Virginia. Banisteria 38: 3-37.
  • Leidolf, Andreas, Sidney T. McDaniel, and Tim Nuttle. 2002. The Flora of Oktibbeha County, Mississippi. Sida 20: 691-765.
  • Morris, Wayne M. 1988. Noteworthy Vascular Plants from Granada County, Mississippi. Sida 13: 177-186.
  • Nekola, J.C. 1994. The Environment and Vascular Flora of Northeastern Iowa Fen Communities. Rhodora 96: 121-169.
  • Palmer, Ernest J. and Julian A. Steyermark. 1935. An annotated Catalogue of the Flowering Plants of Missouri. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 22: 375-758.
  • Quisenberry, S.S., T.R. Yonke, and D.D. Kopp. 1978. Key to the Genera of Certain Immature Treehoppers of Missouri with Notes on Their Host Plants (Homptera: Memracidae). Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society 51: 109-122.
  • Report of the Terminology Committee: Weed Society of America 1962. Weeds 10(3): 255-271.
  • Seymour, Frank C. 1963. New Plants in old places [Massachusetts]. Rhodora 65: 73-78.
  • Tooker, John F., Andrew R. Deans, and Lawrence M. Hanks. 2004. Description of the Antistrophus rufus (Hymenoptera: Cynipidae) Species Complex, Including Two New Species. Journal of Hymenoptera Research 13: 125-133.
  • Young, David. 1977. Taxonomic Study of the Cicadellinae (Homptera: Cicadellidae) Part 2. New World Cicadellini and the Genus Cicadella. NCSU Technical Bulletin No. 239.
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Robert Coxe

Robert Coxe

Robert Coxe is a professional ecologist and botanist who has worked as the State Ecologist of Delaware and as an ecologist for the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. He is also a former Past-President of the Pennsylvania Academy of Science. He currently is an innkeeper at McMullen House Bed & Breakfast LLC and a web designer and owner for Silphium Design LLC.

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