The Jolly Yellow Giants

Some say that Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum), or any perennial that can top 10 feet in height, is unsuitable for a small suburban garden. I disagree.

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Cup Plant with Wild Bergamot and a bit of Ironweed in the foreground.

First of all, Cup Plants add drama to our otherwise flat landscape. Not ominous drama like some noir detective show, but happy drama like a family celebration. Also, I like a flower you can look up to. We can’t have mountains and breathtaking views here in Chicago, but we can have Cup Plant!

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Gold Finch on Cup Plant.

Second, Cup Plant is a real magnet for wildlife. The blooms begin around mid-July, but by early August there are Goldfinches gorging on the seeds.

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Eastern Comma Butterfly

And the flowers themselves attract lots of butterflies, especially the smaller ones, not to mention all kinds of bees.

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Red Admiral sharing with Silver-Spotted Skipper.

Some charge Cup Plant with spreading aggressively, mostly by self-sowing. Those messy Goldfinches don’t help in this regard. However, I have not found this plant to be difficult to control. Just yank out the unwanted stems. However, it’s true that if you leave this plant to its own devices, you may have a forest of Cup Plant.

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Silver-Spotted Skipper on its own.

Cup Plant flowers are simple yellow daisies, a bit like small Sunflowers. The common name comes from the fact that the perfoliate leaves join around the stem to form cups that fill with rain water.

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Another of the Jolly Yellow Giants is Golden Glow (Rudbeckia laciniata). Above you can see Cup Plant on the left (in the Front Island Bed) and Golden Glow on the right (in the Driveway Border), with a narrow grass path between them. I like how the Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) makes little orange dots to punctuate all the yellow.

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Golden Glow starts blooming a bit later than Cup Plant. The flowers look more sophisticated to my eye, with green cones and soft, droopy rays that are more richly colored. Golden Glow tends to be a bit shorter than Cup Plant.

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Here’s a view from the sidewalk. You can see some Sweet Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium pupureum) over at the far right along with the Bee Balm (Monarda didyma) in the foreground.

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Yellow Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) is tall, about 5 feet, but not really a giant. However it blooms around the same time as these two other giants, and adds another variation on the theme of yellow daisies. The big dark central cone is endearing, it reminds me of a clown’s nose.

All three of these plants attract lots of bees. They also seem to tolerate fairly dry conditions without much stress – at least once they’ve become established. However, both Cup Plant and Golden Glow normally enjoy moist soil.

Incidentally, in my experience Yellow Coneflower responds well to cutting back hard, but Golden Glow not so much.

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So the black dot is rebar, the green dots are cup plant stems, and the pencil lines are twine.

No, this is not a drawing that the little girl next door did in kindergarten. This is my very own hand-drawn illustration of my method for staking Cup Plants. I’ve tried a variety of approaches, but this one has worked best. Basically, it involves one 10 foot length of rebar as the starting point for overlapping circles of twine. The main idea is that this makes the Cup Plant stems hold each other up. I can’t explain it better than that.

Cup Plants do tend to lean over at alarming angles, and plants flopping over makes me break out in an itchy rash. If you have the same affliction, you might give my approach a try.

There are other very tall plants out there that I’d like to try, if only I had room.

Do you have a favorite jolly giant in the garden, yellow or otherwise? And just how tall does it get?

54 Comments on “The Jolly Yellow Giants

  1. Why must there be a height limit on perennials? Height limits for trees that get into easements would be more important. So would width limits in regard to how trees spread over neighbors’ gardens.

    • No height limits on perennials! I so agree. On a completely different topic, the last few times I have tried to comment on your blog I suspect that I’m being stuck in your spam folder, because the comment never appears.

    • Well, as an entirely tech-feeble person who had to figure this out myself, I can offer some direction. You need to pull down the menu under My Site in the upper left corner. Then choose Comments. At comments, there is an item for Spam along the top. Click on that. My guess is you’ll find a bunch of legitimate comments along with the ridiculous posts promoting SEO and low cost Cialis.

      • How odd. Your comment were the only ones that were not spam that were filtered out. I did not see how to make an adjustment to prevent that. I could only approve them. Perhaps that will cause the spam filter to adjust. Some were a few days ago, so I will not see them now that they are approved.

      • I have had this problem a lot with WordPress. They seem to consider me highly suspicious. But then they keep marking comments on my blog from friends of mine as spam.

  2. The photo of the goldfinch on the cup plant is absolutely charming. Our native Silphium species aren’t so tall; S. asteriscus apparently grows to six feet or more, but I don’t think I’ve seen that. Two other native species are about three or four feet. But I agree that the taller plants look lovely in your garden: thanks no doubt to your planning and your staking.

  3. Yellow, yellow, yellow! Such a cheerful way to end summer.

  4. Let the lovely yellow cup plant grow as tall as it likes in your garden, it looks eye catching in that position, and especially with the Gold Finch sitting amongst the leaves…. great photo, Judy. I like the Yellow Cone flowers too, they do have a look of the nose on a clown. Yellow is such a cheerful colour and looks wonderful all around your garden…. a pleasant way for me to start a very cold winter’s day in Canberra.

  5. I agree with you Jason that it is wrong to think that small gardens need small plants – the only exception would be trees, a small garden benefits from a good small tree, but a large one would be a disaster.

  6. You make a good case for cup plant. Everything looks great. The pollinators seem pleased and I like you’ve released your inner artist.

  7. It is a delightful scene and interesting to see how you stake your cup flower. I have the yellow coneflower which is charming. Yellow does cheer us up!

  8. Hi there Jason .. I love seeing the Goldfinch feeding on the seeds of the cup plant .. so pretty!
    I have some tall plants .. a thalictrum that is over 10 ft .. I have to have that supported very well. So yes you can have “giant” plants in a small garden .. it just depends on location, the plant and your method of supporting them .. I think I might have to have a few more for dramatic affect .. my poor Giant Fleece Flower is stuck in a totally wrong place .. I just hope it will come out root and all so I can relocate it.
    Pretty pictures !

  9. I love our cup plant! It doesn’t grow as tall as yours – topping out at perhaps 7′ or so. But that also means that we don’t have to worry about supports as it’s never flopped over.

  10. I love your daytime drama in the form of giants. I am increasingly drawn to them as they fill the back of a border brilliantly and draw in wildlife. Lovely pictures

  11. Fee-fi-fo-fum,
    I smell the blood of an Chicagoman…
    Glad your giants are jolly. It’s probably because of the cool staking system you devised.

  12. My cup plant doesn’t lean at all, but my compass plant is a very different story.

  13. Your garden looks great. All the plants look like they love it there. Great pictures!

  14. Impressive plan for staking–truly! I think I may have mentioned that Cup Plant is the fishman’s favorite native plant? He finds it fascinating every time we see it in the wild. I enjoy it, too. Actually, I love all the Silphiums–Cup Plant, Compass Plant, Prairie Dock, and Rosinweed. They’re all so cheery and wildlife-friendly. Bravo with your design and implementation! The garden is looking happy!

    • I didn’t know that about the fishman, clearly he is a wise fellow. I would really like to find room for Prairie Dock. But as you have seen, I would have to get rid of something else first.

  15. So that’s what causes that sporadic itchy rash in the summer!! Thank you, Dr.Jason, for the diagnosis. You make me laugh (the best medicine, for sure).

  16. I wish I could tell you about a giant plant. But this summer was the driest summer we ever had. A sunflower started to grow by accident and reached without watering about 2 to 2,5 m until a storm knocked her down. 😦

  17. I love tall plants and I am itching because my big lilies all crashed over in our recent rain. Your rebar solution looks like a great idea. The tallest flowers in my garden are Thalictrums at 7+ ft. but very airy.

  18. I planted cup plant and compass plant in my yard this year. Thanks for the diagram – I have several tall plants (including milkweed) that flops, especially after a heavy rain.

  19. I love the layers and tall plants do make it so fun and dramatic. Great staking idea. I am showing it to Shawn. : )

  20. Loving all your Jolly Yellow Giants! They all look wonderful in your garden, I do like tall plants. The mallows grow well here and often top six foot. That gold finch on the cup plant is such a stunning picture! Loved your tying illustration, certainly makes sense to me.xxx

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