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A Native Plant Worth Finding

Winecup, Callirhoe involucrata, Purple Poppy Mallow, is a survivor. 

I developed a fondness for Winecup, based on respect.  Winecup is a great plant for dry, partly sunny areas. I know the plant is a survivor based on the abuse and neglect I showered on mine.  I should have planted my Winecup in well-drained soil. Instead, I plopped it into dry clay under some Pines.  It typically suffers crown rot in poorly drained areas. Maybe the fact that I planted it rather high prevented that from happening.  I would suggest better treatment for such a fine plant.

The first year after the blooms were gone and the woody stems were obscured by pine needles, I forgot about it. When new leaves emerged the next spring, I yanked out the struggling stems, thinking it was either a Mugwort or Wild Geranium. Of course, a moment later, I realized my mistake.  It was a delightful surprise to see it return more vigorously later in the year.

An admirable thing about Winecup, besides its bloom, is the way it stays low to the ground, even in bloom. Normally found on roadsides in the western half of the United States, it spreads from basal stems to a 3-foot-wide mass that stays under one foot tall. It is a well-behaved plant.

The flowers have a nice chocolate fragrance, but I’m feeling too old to get down that low and confirm this. They are a wild magenta-rose. The harshness of the color is mitigated by the pale white center that blends out to the petals. The strong color makes a nice contrast with the foliage.  I love it, because the refined cup-shaped flowers are delicately placed just above the low foliage, arranged like a fairy tea party. 

Every year the blooms improve in quality and number. The plant is not covered with blooms like a petunia.  The flowers are spaced generously apart, which gives them a more natural look.  You can deadhead for continuous bloom from spring until late fall, or just enjoy the long spring show. It lasts at least a month. 

It makes a nice rock garden plant or an accent at the sunny edge of woods.  I suppose it would make a beautiful hanging planter, too, but it is hard for me to imagine this native, woodland plant climbing out over the top of a plastic bucket suspended by wires and a metal hook.

Rabbits love Winecup.  The deep taproot is edible, but until they start selling them at Kroger, I will not take that chance! The taproot resents being disturbed, once established, and yet, the foliage can be cut back in early spring to maintain vigor. My experience trying to kill it attests to that. If a drought is really severe, the plant will go dormant. The first frost zaps the foliage back to nothing.

Winecup can be seeded, but the successful germination rate is sporadic.  Division is out of the question, so cuttings are the best method of propagation.  The hardiness range is from Zone 4 – 8.  There is a cut leaf version — C. involucrata v. tenuissima.  I suspect it would not be as vigorous and forgiving as the species.

One more reason to love Winecup: it attracts lacewings.  They eat aphids.  Winecup is an American native worthy of a shopping quest. 

Winecup