Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Wednesday's Wildflower: Yellow Leafcup

The aster family is an enormous one, with members that range from showy and familiar to rare and understated.

Today's wildflower, Yellow Leafcup, is often overlooked as one of the many sunflower species growing wild along the roadsides in the eastern US, but take a closer look and you will see that it is quite unique.

In our neck of the woods, it is one of the first in a long procession of large, sunny,  ray flowers to bloom in the fields, roadsides and forest edges during the summer.

Yellow Leafcup can stand from 3 to 10 feet tall, forming thick stands in the woods and meadows where it calls home.

The showy, bright yellow flowers measure an inch across, and can number from 8-15 on a single plant.

If you look closely at the bloom, you will discover that the true flowers are inconspicuous, and the large, yellow rays are meant only to direct pollinators towards them.

Its most unique feature however, are its leaves. They are opposite, and can grow 4-12 inches long with large, palmate lobes.

You can easily see how it got its other common name, Bear's Foot.

Leafcup's Latin name is Smallanthus uvedalius. Smallanthus means quite literally, "small flower," which seems strange since the flowers aren't all that small. Perhaps they appear small in relation to the overall size of the plant?

The specific epithet, uvedalius, was given in honor of the Enlgish teacher and botanist Robert Uvedale, who was the first to discover this plant growing in his garden in the 18th century.

Yellow Leafcup used to go by the Latin name Polymnia uvedalia. Polymnia is Greek for "many songs," and references the Greek goddess of the same name

While it is common throughout much of its range, it is considered an endangered plant in New York, New Jersey and Michigan, and even has legal protection in those states.

There are two other varieties of Leafcup that can be found in my state of Tennessee. One of them is White-Flowered Leafcup, or Polymnia canadensis.

Its foliage is very similar, but the leaves are pinnately lobed, rather than a triangular shape.

It also doesn't grow as tall, and has flowers that are far less showy; often lacking ray flowers completely.

However, complete blooms are rather lovely upon close inspection.

White-Flowered Leafcup can be found across much of the same range as the Yellow Variety, although it tends to stick more to the woods.

I have also noted that, at least in our area, these are the very first leaves of any kind to emerge in Spring; sometimes pushing their way out of the soil as early as January, in the milder years.

The other variety of Polymnia, P. laevigata, or Tennessee Leafcup, is far less common.

It's range is restricted primarily to calcareous soils on the the Appalachian Plateau, Interior Highlands and the Coastal Plain in a few Southeastern states.

Wildflower Center
It's very similar to White-Flowered Leafcup, except that it has smooth stems, rather than hairy ones.

Yellow Leafcup hasn't ever been recorded as a food source for humans, but it has had many medicinal uses throughout history.

The Cherokee used its roots as an anti-inflammatory. Bruised roots were used to treat burns, or made into a salve to soothe cuts, scrapes and other skin irritations. Roots were also useful in treating rheumatism. A strong decoction was used to help expel afterbirth.

Other tribes used Leafcup's roots as a stimulant and laxative.

In Western medicine it was used by Dr. J. W. Pruitt in the late 1800's to treat glandular tumors and abscesses.

The roots were also thought to benefit the liver, lungs, stomach and spleen, and were used to treat indigestion and liver ailments.

One of its more notable uses was as a hair loss remedy. It was made into a variety of lotions and tonics that were applied to the scalp to help stimulate hair growth.

When it comes to wildlife, Leafcups are a valuable source of food.

The blooms attract a wide variety of pollinators. Bees, flies and butterflies eagerly seek them for their nectar.

Its seeds are enjoyed by wild birds, especially Goldfinches and Indigo Buntings.

Large stands of Leafcup also provide valuable cover for other wildlife species, especially newborn Whitetail fawns.

Yellow Leafcup is a truly unique and beautiful wildflower, encompassing the warmth and cheer of the Summer season.

Be sure to join us for next Wednesday's Wildflower!

Click here to read about last week's wildflower, Turk's Cap Lily

Medicinal information herein is shared strictly for anecdotal purposes. Do not attempt to self-medicate with wild herbs. Please consult a doctor first.

Next flower->


Plants for a Future

Henriette's Herbal Webpage

US Wildflowers

Cherokee Plants and Their Uses - a 400 Year History - Paul B. Hamel & Mary U. Chiltoskey

Wildflowers of Tennessee, the Ohio Valley and the Southern Appalachians - Dennis Horn & Tavia Cathcart


  1. What a pretty flower. You always have all the cool details on flowers....I love your Wednesday series!

    Thanks for linking up with Green Thumb Thursday. We hope you'll stop back this week!


  2. You have me looking for wildflowers all of the time now- love this! Also, I love the common name and the shape of the leaves- Bear's Foot is perfect. Also, random thought, but if you ever get a tattoo, I could totally see a variety of wildflowers as a theme lol. :)

    1. Lol! Yeah, I suppose a flower tat would suit me. :)

  3. Family going camping this weekend and here is another flower to look for.
    Thank you for sharing with the Clever Chicks Blog Hop! I hope you’ll join us again next week!

    Kathy Shea Mormino
    The Chicken Chick