Cup Plant (Perfoliatum)

The Cup Plant (Perfoliatum) is generally described as a perennial forb/herb. This is native to the U.S. (United States) has its most active growth period in the summer . The Cup Plant (Perfoliatum) has green foliage and inconspicuous yellow flowers, with a moderate amount of conspicuous brown fruits or seeds. The greatest bloom is usually observed in the summer, with fruit and seed production starting in the summer and continuing until summer. Leaves are not retained year to year. The Cup Plant (Perfoliatum) has a short life span relative to most other plant species and a slow growth rate. At maturity, the typical Cup Plant (Perfoliatum) will reach up to 9.8 feet high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 0 inches.

The Cup Plant (Perfoliatum) is easily found in nurseries, garden stores and other plant dealers and distributors. It can be propagated by seed. It has a moderate ability to spread through seed production and the seedlings have medium vigor. Note that cold stratification is not required for seed germination and the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below -50°F. has medium tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

Ethnobotanic: Cup plant’s young leaves were cooked in the spring as an acceptable green (Kindscher 1987). This species was also used as a chewing gum to help prevent vomiting (Runkel & Roosa 1989). The Winnebagos tribe believed that this species has supernatural powers. They would drink a concoction derived from the rhizome to purify them before going on a buffalo hunt. It is used in the treatment of liver and spleen disorders and has also been used to treat morning sickness (Moerman 1998). A decoction of the root has been used as a face wash and to treat paralysis, back and chest pain, and lung hemorrhages (Ibid.).

General Characteristics

General: Composite family (Asteraceae). Cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum) is a tall perennial native that grows up to eight feet tall. This species has square stems and leaves that are mostly opposite, egg-shaped, toothed, with cuplike bases that hold water (Kindscher 1987). The flower heads are rich, golden yellow, 2.5 centimeters in diameter, and closely grouped at the tips of the stems (Hunter 1984). The small, tubular disk flowers are in the middle of the flower and is sterile and does not produce fruits (Ladd, 1995).

Required Growing Conditions

Cup plant ranges from Ontario to South Dakota, south to Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, and Oklahoma (Steyermark 1963). For current distribution, please consult the Plant profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.

Adaptation Silphium perfoliatum occurs on low ground, in moist areas, along prairie streams, alluvial thickets, floodplains, and along the edges of wet woodlands. This species is found throughout the tall grass region, but more sporadic northward (Ladd 1995).

Cultivation and Care

Propagation by Seed: Seeds are best sown as soon as they are ripe in a greenhouse. If the seeds are collected in the fall, they should be stratified for twelve weeks and then sown at 24 to 32ºF for four to eight weeks, and then moved to 68ºF for germination. When the plants are large enough to handle, place them into individual pots and plant them out in the summer.

General Upkeep and Control

Silphium perfoliatum species should be transplanted when they are young. This species is much easier when transplanted young because it is very difficult to transplant once it is older due to its extensive root system. SIPEC2Silphium perfoliatum species should be transplanted when they are young. This species is much easier when transplanted young because it is very difficult to transplant once it is older due to its extensive root system.

Plant Basics
Growth Rate Slow
General Type Forb/herb
Growth Period Summer
Growth Duration Perennial
Lifespan Short
Plant Nativity Native to U.S.
Commercial Availability Routinely Available
Physical Characteristics
Bloom Period Summer
Displays Fall Colors No
Shape/Growth Form Single Stem
Drought Tolerance Medium
Shade Tolerance Tolerant
Height When Mature 9.8
Vegetative Spread Slow
Flower Color Yellow
Flower Conspicuousness Yes
Fruit/Seed Abundance Medium
Fruit/Seed Seasonality Summer Summer
Seed Spread Rate Moderate
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Seed
Moisture Requirements Low
Cold Stratification Required No
Minimum Temperature -50
Soil Depth for Roots 12
Toxic to Nearby Plants Yes
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Regrowth Rate None
After-Harvest Resprout Ability No
Responds to Coppicing No
Growth Requirements
pH Range 6–8 pH
Precipitation Range 16–16 inches/yr
Planting Density 2500–10000 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Fine
Soil Depth for Roots 12
Minimum Frost-Free Days 128 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance None
CaCO3 Tolerance Low
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention No
Palatability Low
Fire Resistant No
Causes Livestock Bloating None

Source: USDA, NRCS, PLANTS Database,
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA