Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Most Useful Plant

Fat buds like smooth rumped babies bulge against green swaddling

sunshine petals slyly slipping out, yellow toes wiggling free.

Thick seeds stand at attention
toy soldiers with swords drawn.

Silphium grows wider before growing taller
broad leaves embracing the sun.

Tall and awkward, silphium perfoliatum stands in the corner
and waits to dance,

revealing to those who look closely
 a most beautiful heart.

Silphium perfoliatum is a native plant also known as cup plant. It's seeds are prized by goldfinches and other small birds. Its most distinguishing feature is the leaf joint around the square stems that holds water and dew, creating a water source for birds and insects. It can grow to be over 6 ft tall and lives in the back corner of my dog run, where it can take advantage of my neighbors sprinkler system. 


  1. I have a cup plant that my friend dug up from her Kentucky garden and put in a plastic bag for a long trip to Connecticut. It is growing for me now, not blooming yet, but getting TALL. Just yesterday I saw the pools of water in the stems when I watered! I'm glad to see in this post what the blooms will look like.

  2. Jennifer@threedogsinagarden
    Isn't nature ingenious to create these green leafed water cups! I bet the birds are grateful at this time of the year, when rain water is so precious.
    P.S. I have never grown Gomphrena. I have only bought it as part of a farmers market bouquet. Aren't they just the happiest flowers!

  3. Hmm. Wonder how one of those would do in the Seattle gloom? We do have a lot of goldfinches.

  4. Beautiful plant and yes, so very useful. In this awful drought we are struggling through, I'm glad to see there are native plants (which I knew there were) to help our feathered friends find water. My bird bath dries up daily! Great post, TS :)

  5. Great plant for birds and gardener! Mother nature is so ingenious! Great post!

  6. Amazing how how native plants take care of wildlife! The gold finches are so happy to have the seeds of the black eyed Susan - they are hardly even waiting for them to go to seed. Daily they visit the blooms and pull at seeds just waiting for them to release!

    My gomphrena is growing but not flowers yet...it's progress though. You'll be the first to know!

  7. You are quite the wordsmith. Great fun description would make me get one for my garden.

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  9. Oh, I just got the point that all the photos are the same plant. The first two shots of the flowers make it look like two different plants. That is an ingenious way to trap water. Nice!

  10. I googled this plant and now realize it is a plant I have been seeing for years here in Iowa, in our parks and along the nature trail.

  11. Not a big gomphrena fan. Don't know why. too pink? too round? too feminine? not masculine enough? To each his/her own I suppose. Most people don't care for my king kong mullien either.

  12. Your descriptions are great! I was not familiar with this flower before I read your post, but I just love the idea of the little cup that forms to collect water. You've inspired me to look into getting one myself. I wonder if it will do well in a container?

    Hope you're staying cool with this heatwave we're having!

  13. What a great description! I enjoyed reading about this plant, and it looks lovely too.

  14. Laurrie - I'm so glad someone else is growing this!! It's a bit rangy but is such a cool plant!

    Jen - Gomphrena is super eay to grow. :o)

    Kelly - I bought my cup plant bare root from Prairie Moon which is a cheap way to experiment with a plant. It makes the learning curve a bit cheaper.

    Diane - Did you get any of the rain that hit Austin? We went 5 wks last summer w/no rain. It was horrible!

    Karin, Tufa and Masha - thanks!

    Cat - Try giving your gomphrena some unsalted cooking water. That always seems to perk up my plants.

    Beth - Mother Nature is the ultimate problem solver. I've seen birds hopping around the plant looking for a drink!

    Iowa - hooray!! I'm so glad this is still growing wild.

    Greggo - Massive mullein is too manly for me! Do you grow giant pumpkins, too? :o)

    Bumble - It would need a big pot since it's so tall. Our heat wave is killing me! I was out watering at midnight last night and it was still nasty sticky hot.

  15. What a cheery flower...love it!
    I also love your gomphrena. Mine is not blooming for some reason. It is tall and green without blooms. It is in full sun...hmmmm.
    Hope you are enjoying your summer break!

  16. Amy - Cat's isn't blooming either. Maybe you both have a different variety or maybe it's just waiting till it cools down! You've been so super hot down there.

  17. Seen this plant along the roadside in the Eastern Shore of Virginia NWR and other places. One thing I recall it would get knocked down during rain storms. Have you tried Green Coneflower the native? Meg just got me a Narrow-leaved Sunflower I have seen it in the wild only in one location very cool.

  18. So cool you got such a good picture! This plant is very new to my garden and I hope it grows like this. I would love for the finches to be all over it. Does it spread itself around a bit? I hope so as I planted it in a spot where it can do so with the Joe Pye. Just wondering as I've read conflicting things about it on the web. Thanks!

  19. I just got a tiny plug. I can't wait for mine to be your size! I can imagine tree frogs and butterflies sipping the water, too. I can't wait. Nope.


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