The Purple Winecup

Becky Emerson Carlberg
Contributing writer
Field Winecups

The Winecups were blooming along the road. The plants have been gradually spreading eastward despite being continually mowed. My neighbor seldom ventures outdoors and has probably never seen these beauties blooming their little hearts out.

I had a chance to admire them in full splendor this year, fifteen minutes before the mowers roared across my neighbor’s yard, cutting every flower down. Many around here mindlessly mow down the native flowers in order to create their man-made green carpets. Confounds me. Mow around the flowers and enjoy their beauty. Let nature do her thing. I collected a displaced bloom that had closed for the night, took it home, immersed the severed stem in water and put it on the dining room table.

Next day the bloom had opened wide. I went outside to see if any other Winecup flowers were lying about, but instead saw my neighbor’s mail box on the ground, the pole gone. A long wavy white line on the road ran up the hill and vanished over the top. Tracking the white trail, I found the twisted pole in front of a partially constructed house. The contractor walked over to explain. The new concrete truck driver was coming down the road, swerved left to avoid a deep hole and, unknowingly, swiped the entire mail box and post. The mail box itself popped off, but the post, still anchored in its concrete base, was dragged away. The driver made good by replacing the mailbox with a new, updated model. Rain washed away the chalky stripe.

The scientific name for the Winecup is Callirhoe involucrata. When you see the word Callirhoe, what comes to mind? A Scottish town? First try to pronounce it…Cahl-IR-oh-ee. Greek origin and means “beautifully flowing.” In mythology, Callirhoe was one of the three thousand nymph daughters of the pre-Olympian god Oceanus and sea goddess Tethys.

Involucrata means ‘to wrap.’ The ‘flowing’ flower petals wrap around each other at night and open wide during the day. Each 1”-2” bloom is composed of 5 deep burgundy petals with white bases circling the male staminate column topped by the curly female pistols. Winecups are in the mallow family with the hollyhocks, okra and cotton.

The Winecup blossom does look like a winecup. Also called Purple, Fringed or Fingered Poppymallow, the Winecup resembles both poppies and mallows. In the Midwest the Winecup is known as Buffalo Rose, referring to a single-petal heirloom rose. The mat-forming perennial with eye-catching magenta flowers grows in the central US from North Dakota to Texas into Mexico. It has somehow turned up in Australia, Europe, and Tasmania. Tasmania?

Frustrated Winecup

The hardy plant goes dormant in winter after first reseeding itself. Plant taproots up to four inches in diameter assure survival through the cold season. In spring, the Winecup stems grow anywhere from six inches to one foot tall and can spread out three feet. The hairy leaves are deeply lobed like those of the wild geranium. Winecups are indeterminate bloomers with a longer flowering period compared to other native plants. They open in daylight and close when dark. Once pollinated, the flowers remain closed. Winecups love the sun and thrive in drier sites and prairies. They can handle part shade, moist soils or drought.

The Gray Hairstreak Butterfly and Checkered Skipper caterpillars feast on the leaves. So do rabbits, deer, livestock and slugs. Native bees and butterflies go for the fragrant mallow flowers.

The taproots harvested in late summer/fall are sweet and starchy with the flavor of sweet potato. Dried or cooked roots have been used to kill pain and alleviate head colds. The leaves, like other mallows, are mucilaginous and good for thickening soups.

If you don’t want to eat the Winecups, just enjoy them in rock gardens and ground covers. Do not divide this plant. It takes offense to having its roots disturbed. Seed coats should be abraded (sand paper or hot water soak for 24 hours) for better germination. Seeds need a cold spell. Sow Winecup seeds in winter or early spring. Flowers appear the second year.

The Winecup on the table? The frustrated flower opened and closed for five days and nights.

The power, the hope of nature.