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).
Distribution: 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.
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Range and Habitat in Illinois
Localities documented in Tropicos sources
Canada (North America)
United States (North America)
Note: This information is based on publications available through Tropicos and may not represent the entire distribution. Tropicos does not categorize distributions as native or non-native.
- Anonymous. 1986. List-Based Rec., Soil Conserv. Serv., U.S.D.A. Database of the U.S.D.A., Beltsville. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/1103
- Gleason, H. A. 1968. The Sympetalous Dicotyledoneae. vol. 3. 596 pp. In H. A. Gleason Ill. Fl. N. U.S. (ed. 3). New York Botanical Garden, New York. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/1707
- Radford, A. E., H. E. Ahles & C. R. Bell. 1968. Man. Vasc. Fl. Carolinas i–lxi, 1–1183. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/636
- Small, J. K. 1933. Man. S.E. Fl. i–xxii, 1–1554. Published by the Author, New York. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/1515
- Great Plains Flora Association. 1986. Fl. Great Plains i–vii, 1–1392. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/637
- Fernald, M. 1950. Manual (ed. 8) i–lxiv, 1–1632. American Book Co., New York. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/1327
Range and Habitat in Illinois
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.
Flower-Visiting Insects of Cup Plant in Illinois
(Bees collect pollen or suck nectar; flies feed on pollen & are non-pollinating, or they suck nectar; other insects suck nectar; a pair of observations are from Moure & Hurd and Krombein et al. as indicated below, otherwise observations are from Robertson)
Apidae (Apinae): Apis mellifera sn cp fq; Apidae (Bombini): Bombus fraternus sn, Bombus griseocallis sn, Bombus impatiens sn cp fq, Bombus pensylvanica sn cp fq, Bombus vagans sn cp fq; Anthophoridae (Ceratinini): Ceratina dupla dupla sn cp fq; Anthophoridae (Epeolini): Triepeolus concavus sn, Triepeolus lunatus concolor sn fq, Triepeolus lunatus lunatus sn, Triepeolus remigata sn fq, Triepeolus simplex sn; Anthophoridae (Eucerini): Melissodes agilis sn fq, Melissodes bimaculata bimaculata sn, Melissodes coloradensis sn cp, Melissodes denticulata sn fq, Melissodes rustica sn, Melissodes trinodis sn fq, Melissodes vernoniae sn, Svastra obliqua obliqua sn cp; Megachilidae (Coelioxini): Coelioxys germana sn; Megachilidae (Megachilini): Megachile brevis brevis sn cp, Megachile inimica sayi sn, Megachile mendica sn cp, Megachile petulans sn cp fq, Megachile pugnatus sn cp fq
Halictidae (Halictinae): Agapostemon sericea sn cp, Agapostemon splendens sn, Agapostemon virescens sn cp fq, Augochlorella striata sn, Halictus ligatus sn cp, Halictus rubicunda sn, Lasioglossum imitatus cp np fq, Lasioglossum pectoralis cp np, Lasioglossum pilosus pilosus cp np fq, Lasioglossum versatus cp np; Halictidae (Nomiinae): Nomia triangulifera (MH); Andrenidae (Andreninae): Andrena accepta sn fq, Andrena aliciae sn, Andrena helianthi (Kr); Andrenidae (Panurginae): Heterosarus labrosiformis labrosiformis sn fq, Pseudopanurgus rugosus sn
Sphecidae (Sphecinae): Ammophila procera; Vespidae: Polistes dorsalis; Scoliidae: Scolia bicincta
Syrphidae: Allograpta obliqua fp np, Eristalis tenax sn, Milesia virginiensis fp np; Bombyliidae: Exoprosopa fasciata sn, Poecilanthrax alcyon sn, Sparnopolius confusus sn, Systoechus vulgaris fq sn, Villa alternata fp np; Conopidae: Zodion obliquefasciatum sn; Tachinidae: Archytas aterrima sn
Nymphalidae: Chlosyne nycteis, Danaus plexippus, Limenitis archippus, Limenitis arthemis astyanax, Polygonia interrogationis, Vanessa atalanta, Vanessa cardui, Vanessa virginiensis; Lycaenidae: Lycaena hyllus; Pieridae: Colias philodice, Pieris rapae, Pontia protodice; Papilionidae: Battus philenor, Papilio cresphontes, Papilio glaucus, Papilio troilus
Hesperiidae: Anatrytone logan, Epargyreus clarus, Pholisora catullus, Poanes zabulon, Polites themistocles
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Silphium perfoliatum
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N2 - Imperiled
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Please consult the Plants Web site and your State Department of Natural Resources for this plant’s current status, such as, state noxious status and wetland indicator values.
Cultivars, improved and selected materials (and area of origin)
Materials are occasionally available through native plant seed sources and nurseries. Contact your local Natural Resources Conservation Service (formerly Soil Conservation Service) office for more information. Look in the phone book under ”United States Government.” The Natural Resources Conservation Service will be listed under the subheading “Department of Agriculture.”
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
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.).
Silphium perfoliatum (cup plant) is a species of flowering plant in the Asteraceae family, native to eastern and central North America. It is an erect herbaceous perennial with triangular toothed leaves, and daisy-like yellow composite flower heads in summer.
There are two varieties:-
The typical height of this plant ranges from 1–2.5 m (3–8 ft). The stem is stout, smooth, slightly hairy (glabrous) strongly 4-angled (square), like mint plants. The leaves are opposite, toothed and ovate. The petioles are widely winged and fused around the stem, forming a cup. The stem terminates in a single flower bud. All other species of Silphium present in Michigan do not have fused leaf bases.
The flowers, which appear from midsummer to autumn (fall), look very similar to sunflowers, measuring about 2.5 cm in diameter, with golden yellow ray florets. In the middle of the flower there are small, sterile, tubular disk florets, which are structurally bisexual, but the stamens are the only fertile part, and they do not produce fruit. The corollas are tubular, 5-toothed, and the style is undivided.
Insect pollinators including bees, butterflies, and skippers help to cross-fertilize flowers to produce seeds. 20 to 30 seeds are created in each flower head. Each seed is about 9 to 15 mm long, 6–9 mm wide, flattened in shape, with a thickness of 1 mm.
 Silphium perfoliatum is able to establish colonies due to its central taproot system and shallow rhizomes. A multi-rhizomed clone originating from a single seed is believed to be 15 years old. The roots found in botanical gardens have been estimated to be more than 50 years old. The plant has an extensive root system and does not transplant well except when very young.
The plant metabolises by the Type C3 Pathway. This plant is highly adapted to endure extreme weather and inhospitable conditions. For example, during the winter, the roots remain dormant and can survive down to −30 °C (−22 °F). Its optimal growing temperature is 20 °C (68 °F)20 degree Celsius. When flooded it can stay alive for 10 to 15 days.
Habitat and distribution
S. perfoliatum grows in sandy moist bottom lands, floodplains, near stream beds, in or adjacent to open woodland. Currently, it can be found in the following states: USA (AL, AR, CT, GA, IA, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MS, NC, ND, NE, NJ, NY, OH, OK, PA, SD, TN, VA, VT, WI, WV), CAN (ON, QC) 
The plant is listed as a threatened species in Michigan.
During the 1750s, the species was introduced to the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union, and has been prized as an ornamental plant since. It was named in 1759 by Carl Linnaeus. It has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.
The plant produces a resin that has an odor similar to turpentine. The plant contains a gum and resin; the root has been used medicinally. The resin has been made into chewing gum to prevent nausea and vomiting. Native Americans would cut off the top of the plant stalk and collect the resinous sap that was emitted from the plant. The resin was used for a chewing gum to freshen breath. The Winnebagos Tribe believed that a potion made from the rhizome would provide supernatural powers. The people belonging to the tribe would drink this potion before hunting. The people of the Chippewas tribe used the root extract for back and chest pains, to prevent excessive menstruation, and to treat lung hemorrhage. During the spring, the tender young leaves were cultivated as an acceptable food source by cooking or a salad.
The powdered form of Silphium perfoliatum L. has diaphoretic and tonic properties. It can help alleviate the symptoms of fevers, dry cough, asthma, spleen illness, heart and liver disease. The extract from the leaves of the plant has shown to lower cholesterol and triglycerides levels in blood. Studies show that the presence of phenolic acids is responsible for the species’ antiseptic activity to stimulate generation of IgG and IgM antibodies. In addition, it stimulates bile production of the gall bladder.
Silphium perfoliatum contains amino acids, carbohydrates (inulinin rhizomes), L-ascorbic acid, terpenes with essential oils, triterpene saponins, carotenoids, phenolic acid, tannins, and flavonoids.
The long blossoming season and abundance of flowers provides a rich source for bees and the cultivation of honey.
Disease and Herbivory
This species can be targeted by a fungus called Sclerotinia during the summer. During cool temperatures in autumn, the fungus Botrytis will cause the flower buds to wilt and turn black before blooming. Eggs of the Gall wasp are deposited within the stems of this plant. Consequently, the developing larvae feed within the stems. Goldfinches feed on the seeds of Silphium perfoliatum and drink the water collected by the “cups” on the stems. The fact that this species is able to form dense colonies, it provides a good shelter for birds. Herbivores such as cattle and sheep will eat the leaves the plant especially those of young plants.
- RHS A-Z encyclopedia of garden plants. United Kingdom: Dorling Kindersley. 2008. p. 1136. ISBN 1405332964.
- "Plants of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden". Friends of the Wild Flowers. 2008. Retrieved 15 May 2011.
- "ITIS Standard Report Page: Silphium perfoliatum var. connatum". Itis.gov. 2010-05-13. Retrieved 2012-09-06.
- Favorite, Jamie (2002). "Plant Guide: Cup Plant Silphium perfoliatum L." (PDF). USDA NRCS National Plant Data Center. Plants.usda.gov. Retrieved 15 May 2010.
- Stanford, Geoffrey (1990). "Silphium perfoliatum (Cup-Plant) as a New Forage.". Proceedings of the Twelfth North American Prairie Conference. Vol. 12, x. 218, pp. 33-38. Retrieved 15 May 2011.
- Penskar, M.R.; Crispin, S.R. (2010). "Silphium perfoliatum L. (cup plant)" (PDF). Special Plant Abstract for Silphium perfoliatum. Lansing, MI: Michigan Natural Features Inventory. pp. 1–3. Retrieved 15 May 2011.
- "Silphium perfoliatum". Invasive Plant Atlas of New England. 2009. Retrieved 15 May 2010.
- Britton & Brown, Illustrated flora of the northern states and Canada III. New York: C. Scribner's sons. 1913. ISBN 0486226441.
- Hilty, John (2010). "Silphium perfoliatum L. Comprehensive Description.". Encyclopedia of Life. Retrieved 15 May 2010.
- "Plant Profile: Silphium perfoliatum L." (TIF). USDA. 15 May 2010.
- Reznicek, A.A.; Voss, E.G., & Walters, B.S. "Michigan Flora Online: Silphium perfoliatum L.". Silphium perfoliatum L. University of Michigan. Retrieved 15 May 2011.
- "Silphium perfoliatum". Royal Horticultural Society. Retrieved 22 July 2013.
- Kowalski, R.; Wolski, T. (20 December 2005). "The chemical composition of essential oils of Silphium perfoliatum L.". Flavour and Fragrance Journal 20 (3): 306–310. doi:10.1002/ffj.1418.
- Lindsey, Christopher. "Silphium perfoliatum L.". Plant Profiles. Mallorn Computing, Inc. Retrieved 15 May 2011.
- Wojcinska, Malgorzata; Drost-Karbowska, Krystyna (1998). "Phenolic Acids in Silphium Perfoliatum L. Flowers". Acta Poloniae Pharmaceutica- Drug Research 55 (5): 413–416.
- Hilty, John. "CupPlant". Prairie Wildflowers of Illinois. Retrieved 15 May 2011.