Saturday, July 28, 2012
Hairy Leafcup/Bear's-foot - Smallanthus uvedalia (fka Polymnia uvedalia)
Hairy leafcup or Bear's-foot (Smallanthus uvedalia) has undergone several Latin name changes over the years. Until rather recently is was grouped with other species in the "leafcup" genus, Polymnia, and many references will have it listed under Polymnia uvedalia. As it stands now, however, it is the sole member of the genus Smallanthus. Hairy leafcup occurs widely throughout the northern half of Florida and the eastern half of the U.S. Throughout its range, it occurs in open woodlands, often in light gaps where it receives partial sun and soils that are not too droughty.
Hairy leafcup is a perennial forb that dies to the ground each winter. After emerging in spring, it grows quickly and can reach a mature height of nearly 6 feet by late summer. Its large tri-lobed leaves are opposite on the stems and look a bit like bear's paws - hence its other name. It makes an attractive foliage plant. The stout main stem is hollow and has a tendency to bend or break in severe weather. Strong winds and lashing rains are not a common occurrence in the habitats it occurs in naturally, but are far more common in home gardens. Our plants often suffer some type of setback during the growing season, but they rapidly rebound, produce another main stem and find a way to bloom. As such, they are very dependable.
Flowering occurs from late July through fall. The large sunflower-type blooms are showy and attract a great diversity of pollinating insects. Multiple flowers can occur at any one time at the tips of the main stem and the side branches near the top.
In landscape settings, hairy leafcup is fairly adaptable. We have used it in our Pinellas County landscape for many years and have had it in bright sunny locations and locations with far more shade. Our soils are far more droughty than those I find the plant in naturally and it persists and spreads unaggressively. Because of its height, we keep ours in the back of the garden and weed it out of places where it is too tall for its neighbors.
Hairy leafcup is only rarely offered from commercial sources in Florida. My wife, Alexa, purchased ours years before we were married - which is fortunate as I have not run across it at retail or wholesale nurseries for several years and none list it through the growers list maintained by FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries. If you wish to add it to your landscape, you may have to do some serious searching. If you find it, plant it in moderate to moist soils in partial sun if you want it to perform best.