September 1, 2013

Cup Plant

On a trip to southern Wisconsin with my sister and her husband in 2007, we stayed at a bed & breakfast that was a working cow farm. It was charming, although it took five years for the manure smell to leave my car.

The farmer had restored several acres of tallgrass prairie on his farm, and he took us for a tour to show us what the original prairie looked like before farmers and settlers and civilization plowed it under or built over it.

One impressive plant he showed us was cup plant, Silphium perfoliatum.

It's a yellow daisy-like plant that grows quite tall, up to 8 feet.

It gets its common name from the cups of water that pool in the leaves around the square stems. Small birds and insects can drink from these puddles.

A few years later a friend gave me some cup plants that she had dug up. They survived a car trip from her garden in Kentucky, and I was happy to have a little bit of the Wisconsin / Kentucky original American tallgrass prairie growing in my New England garden.

But an 8 foot tall perennial was a little too big for my cultivated spaces. And then I started to read that cup plant is quite invasive here in Connecticut. So reluctantly, I took it out.

Well, here it is, growing in the unmowed meadow where I had tossed it when I took it out of my garden. It survived being chucked out with its roots in the air, and happily coexists with a stand of swamp milkweed.

I want to leave it to grow. After all, it reminds me of the trip we took to Wisconsin, a nostalgia tour to places my sister and I had gone to as children. And it reminds me of my good friend in Kentucky, a gardener who shares plants and so much more with me.

But will this be a mistake? Will growing an invasive plant in an unmowed area be a garden oops, or GOOPs as Joene calls them?

On the first of the month Joene sponsors GOOPs, where we post about mistakes we have made in the garden. You can visit her blog for more.

How can this be an oops? It's a native plant, a remnant of the bygone American wild prairie. It has strong family and friend connections for me. It's pretty.

It's also supposedly invasive here. Will I regret letting it go wild in my meadow?

 

27 comments:

  1. I doubt it will cause any trouble in your meadow. It is supposed to be in the wild. I hope it doesn't turn out to be an oops.

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    1. Lisa, I'll be watching next year to see if it spreads at all.

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  2. Definitely not a goops! Cup plants grow in native gardens and prairie restorations around here, but I've never seen them completely take over any area. I've tried unsuccessfully to grow this plant several times--I guess I should have just "chucked" it out somewhere:)

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    1. Rose, while cup plant is native to grassy prairies, its normal habitat is probably not our eastern woodland areas. That might be why it is a problem here?

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  3. My guess is you can leave. Probably with everything else growing wild around it, it will have plenty of competition and won't get too out of control. It looks quite appropriate out in your unmowed meadow.

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    1. Sarah, I really do enjoy seeing it bloom in the meadow with all the other tall weeds. It didn't look right in my cultivated borders, though. Too tall and prairie-like.

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  4. I could never figure out how a native plant could be on the CT invasive plant list. I'm pretty sure Natureworks sells it and Nancy is a very conscientious gardener. Am I missing something?

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    1. Sue, the link Joene provides below from the New England Wildflower Society has it listed as prohibited in CT -- hmmm?

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    2. Natureworks definitely does not sell it! Maybe at one point 20 years ago we did and I'd have to ask the boss for sure (before it was on the list), but one of my first garden jobs as an employee at Natureworks was to dig it out of the garden beds...which others had been doing occasionally for years-and it was tough to get out! I am originally from Chicago and it is all over the prairie plantings there. I do notice it grows in rather large colonies and that is good and bad... It is on the CT invasive list. 2 years ago at the MG symposium, the speaker from MA, Dan Jaffe of the NE Wildflower Society was showing slides of it and I had recognized it as an invasive. I emailed him after the symposium to clarify why he was showing us an invasive plant and it was not on their invasive list-just ours. At that time he let me know he was pulling it out of future talks until he had more answers about it. I agree it is pretty and seems useful to provide water for all kinds of wildlife. If it was me, I would pull it out-we learn from these plants years down the road and this one has been classified as invasive. And to tell you the truth, all the meadow (prairie) planting I visited in Chicago and surrounding areas that had cup plant in it I thought it grew to dense and tall for my liking and looked sort of thug-like. LOVE your blog Laurrie, Diane from Natureworks

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    3. Diane, good to know all of this! I've been thinking I would let it grow and watch it, but now as I hear more and do some more reading, I am concerned. What I read recently says that it is not a big seeder, but rather it spreads by tenacious deep roots that march along underground and make it impossible to dig out.

      So watching and studying how it behaves might not be an option. If I ever decide it's spreading, I may not be able to get it out.

      I had no idea there was such confusion / controversy about cup plant.

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  5. Perhaps the only way to determine if it will become a problem is to watch how it acts as years go by. Maybe deadheading it before it sets seed will keep it in check. However, Go Botany has it listed as invasive and prohibited in CT (https://gobotany.newenglandwild.org/species/silphium/perfoliatum/). You could contact The Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group to find out more about why it is listed as invasive and prohibited.

    Thanks for sharing a GOOPs tale.

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    1. Joene, thanks for the link and reference. I really do need to check this out further. I love the plant, but don't want to create problems. In the meantime, your suggestions to watch and deadhead are what I will do.

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  6. Laurrie, this plant is like some other wild plants: you take them out and they survive in new condition. Let it grow as it wants. I've read that it has "high ecological plasticity" and well grows on one place at least 15 years". You have 'long-playing' wild plant.

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    1. Nadezda, this plant is a survivor. When I took it out it was too big to put in the trash, and I didn't want to bother cutting it into pieces. So it just got tossed away in the meadow. But it lived! A tough wild plant!

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  7. Perhaps the fact that it thrived when thrown away with its roots in the air is sort of a clue that it might be a bit invasive... :)
    But it is lovely and so interesting. I wouldn't be able to resist keeping it either.

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    1. Lyn, I know, I was surprised that it grew and that made me worry at first. But I'm glad it did.

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  8. I say let it live!

    IMHO, we are never going to get back to a pristine 'natives-only' la-la land in nature.

    The real question is -- are the invasives absolute thugs and do they add any value to the landscape? Since Cup Plant benefits bees, birds and other critters, and since it doesn't seem to be dominating the landscape in your area, my vote would be to let it stay.

    PS - It doesn't seem too thuggish from this discussion on Gardenweb: http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/load/wildlife/msg0817583724066.html

    PPS - Check out the 'subordinate taxa' tab on this USDA page. Looks like at least one type of Cup Plant is native in CT! So how can it be invasive there?! And on the Legal Status tab, it says Cup Plant is threatened in Michigan, which makes it sound like it needs protection, not prohibition!

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    1. Oops. Sorry. Forgot to include the USDA link: http://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=sipe2

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    2. Aaron, so much conflicting info out there! Who to believe? I'm just going to enjoy my cup plant and watch it carefully.

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  9. Well time will tell but for now it is lovely and bold in your space! I love that it brings you comfort! Such stunning blooms on this plant as well! I hope you are enjoying the new patio!!!

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    1. Nicole, it really is lovely, but there seems to be no end of confusion or controversy about planting it. I have more research to do!

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  10. How strange to label a native plant (as this is native to CT) invasive and ban it. It loves a moist woodland and the meadow you have it in. I cannot get them to grow in my wet clay...how strange.

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    1. Donna, yes, this plant is increasingly puzzling me -- is it a thug or not? I have to start reading up more on it.

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  11. Yes greenery is important but when it becomes irritating like under water weeds or in Lake so many plants, grasses, Hydrilla then it is necessary to remove them. But not with chemical treatment with easy way of weed cutting with weed cutter.

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  12. Sylphium perfoliatum is very invasive on the East Coast. The Nature Conservancy first noted along the banks of the Au Sable River about 15 years ago and it has had prolific spread since that time even with attempt at control. It now is over 30 miles from the original sighting and threatens the shores of Lake Champlain. The Adirondac Park Invasive Plant Program and Au Sable River Association are attempting to limit its spread. Please see this report - http://www.ausableriver.org/pdf/Indian%20Cup%20Plant%20final%20report.pdf
    This infestation in New York was traced to a gardner planting two Sylphium perfoliatum plants.

    I speak from personal experience as well, having included it in a prairie restoration seed mix for 40 acres on my property in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia 11 years ago. After 3 years I noted prolific spread of the plant to the point of domination and started eradication efforts at that time. Each Spring I continue to kill tens of thousands of plants by hand spraying with a crew of 6 to control it and prevent seeding. It has spread to neighbors farms up to a mile away but they kindly allow me to kill it there.

    Bottom line, kill it now while you have a chance. It plays well with others in the Midwest but not on the East Coast. Questions? Call me at 540-333-2859 Jeff

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  13. Everything negative posted about cup plant here is valid. Its colonies take over, given a chance. It requires massive amounts of spot-sprayi herbicide over many years of hard hand-work to get under control. 10 years on, I'm still at it. The problem is that deer love it at any point of maturity, & the seeds in their droppings propagate almost immediately. It got established in 2 years, and overtook nearly everything in my tallgrass prairie in 4 years, & I've been spraying ever since. Kill it before it kills you.

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  14. I have a nightmare with this plant right now in Tennessee and it started with only two plants. Get rid of it now!

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