Cup Plant – The Magnificent Perennial Flower of the Midwest

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Video cup flower plant

The Cup Plant, also known as Silphium perfoliatum, is a stunning perennial flower that originates from the Midwestern United States. While it can also be found in certain areas of Tennessee, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, its true beauty flourishes in the heart of the Midwest. With its towering height and vibrant yellow flowers, this plant is a sight to behold.

The Enchanting Cup Plant

What sets the Cup Plant apart from its counterparts is its unique characteristic of two large leaves that join together, forming a cup-like shape. Rainwater collects in this cup, creating a natural birdbath and potentially serving as a trap for insects. This intriguing feature adds to the allure of this remarkable flower.

Cup Plant flowers Silphium perfoliatum

Fascinating Cup Plant Facts

Let’s delve deeper into the world of the Cup Plant and explore some interesting facts:

  • In optimum conditions, the Cup Plant can reach an impressive height of 10 feet (3 meters).
  • It possesses pairs of leaves that collect rainwater, making it a butterfly magnet.
  • While some sources warn about its potential invasiveness, this has not been observed in the three years of growing it. However, seedlings in the spring are not uncommon.
  • Its blooming period lasts for about 4-6 weeks, filling the landscape with its vibrant yellow hues.

A Closer Look at the Cup Plant

As August arrives, the Cup Plant towers above other flora, reaching a height of 8-10 feet (2.4-3 meters) under ideal circumstances. The plant is characterized by a large, solid, and square-shaped stalk. Pairs of leaves adorning the stalk are joined and can hold water, allowing for easy identification.

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Full size Cup Plant. The tallest stalk is approaching 9' (3 m) tall!

Stalk / Stem

The Cup Plant’s stalk is notable for its size and shape, providing a sturdy foundation for the leaves. Along the stalk, lanceolate leaves with coarse teeth create a rough texture akin to fine sandpaper.


The leaves of the Cup Plant are lance-shaped and contribute to its distinct appearance. Their rough texture adds to the plant’s charm and uniqueness.

Cup Plant Leaves hold Water Silphium perfoliatum


The Cup Plant produces striking flowers resembling common sunflowers. Although they typically measure 3-5 inches (7.6-12.7 cm) in diameter, the arrangement of petals can vary, with some displaying gaps between the petals.


This perennial beauty boasts a taproot and small rhizomes, making it challenging to transplant. The rhizomes contribute to the plant’s ability to reproduce and thrive, crowding out competing vegetation.

The Ideal Habitat for the Cup Plant

The Cup Plant thrives in moist prairies, a natural habitat that has become rarer in the Midwest. It favors full sun and moist soil, growing taller as it basks in the sunlight. While it can tolerate partial shade and drought conditions, it’s essential to monitor the soil’s moisture level and provide water when necessary.

Silphium perfoliatum with black swallowtail

Nurturing the Cup Plant

Caring for the Cup Plant is remarkably easy. As long as it receives full sun and moist soil, it will thrive without any additional maintenance. Its resilience allows it to outcompete most other plants, eliminating the need for fertilizers. However, you may need to provide support or trim the plant to prevent flopping over during high winds or after blooming.

Embracing the Cup Plant’s Beauty

While the Cup Plant’s popularity has grown over the years, it is still relatively uncommon in nurseries. To cultivate this flower, your best option is to purchase seeds. Plant them directly in the soil in the fall, ensuring they are firmly pressed into the ground. Cold moist stratification for at least two months is necessary for optimal germination. Alternatively, you can winter sow the seeds by placing them in potting soil outside during the winter months.

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Cup Plant yellow flower bee Silphium perfoliatum

Established Cup Plants will begin to emerge from their winter dormancy in early spring, coinciding with the appearance of other perennials. In the second year, these plants will grow, and by the third year, they will showcase their full potential, attracting a parade of butterflies to your garden.

The Cup Plant’s Fauna and Future

When the Cup Plant is in full bloom, it becomes a haven for bees and butterflies, captivating observers with its hypnotic allure. Its rough-textured leaves seem to deter animal consumption, creating a safe haven for this remarkable flower. Pest and disease issues are virtually nonexistent, making the Cup Plant a robust and resilient addition to any garden.

Cup Plant tiger swallowtail butterfly

The Cup Plant is truly a treasure of the Midwest, enchanting all who encounter it with its towering height, vibrant flowers, and ability to attract beautiful pollinators. Embrace the magnificence of the Cup Plant and bring a touch of the wild prairies into your own garden.

To learn more about the fascinating world of gardening and discover other captivating plant profiles, visit Ames Farm Center. Happy growing!