Cup-and-Saucer Vine – Cobaea scandens

Clup-and-Saucer Vine is showy climbing plant that can be grown from year to year in a conservatory or greenhouse. It is often treated as an annual climbing plant and discarded after flowering.

Originally from Mexico and Peru, this plant was discovered in the 17th century by a Jesuit missionary priest, Father Cobo, from whom it gets its Latin name. It is also called Cathedral Bells, from the shape of its flowers.

In tropical and subtropical conditions, the vine can be grown outdoors, but in cool climates it needs protection from frost to grow on from year to year. Cup-and-Saucer Vine clings to its supports using branched and hooked tendrils which grow at the tips of leaf stalks. The plant grows upright at first, then makes side shoots which can spread across a trellis or other support. The leaves are divided into 4-6 leaflets.

Flowers and flowering

Bell- or cup-shaped, unscented flowers with greenish ruffs or ‘saucers’ are carried from May to October. When they first open the flowers are cream coloured, but darken to deep purple as they age. The yellow stamens hang down attractively.Cup-and-Saucer Vine - Cobaea scandens

This is a vigorous climber capable of considerable growth, up to 10m (33ft), in the wild. In a container it rarely grows taller than 1.8m (6ft). It will need support from canes, trellis or wire if grown in a conservatory.

The variety Cobaea scandens ‘Alba’ produces flowers which do not turn purple but remain creamy white. It is less common than the purple type, but is available from nurseries.

Display ideas

One of these plants grown against a small window will provide an attractive green ‘curtain’ and a colourful floral display in summer.

Growing from seed

1. Sow seeds on edge and under glass in early spring. Use a soil-based seed compost and keep it moist. Provide a temperature of 18°C (65°F).

2. Germination takes 3-4 weeks. Once they

are large enough to handle, transplant the seedlings into 8cm (3in) pots using a soil-based compost.

3. As they grow, move them on into larger pots until a 20cm (8in) pot is reached. Alternatively, plant in a greenhouse border.

4. Place a couple of bamboo canes, angled slightly outwards, in the pot and stretch wire or string between them to make a support for the plant.

Looking after your plant

Providing supports

Fix a small trellis or bamboo or wire frame in the pot, or place the pot against a wall or window where you can make a support of string or wire trellis.


Your plant should make quite luxuriant growth. Pinch out the growing tip to encourage side shoots. If some of the flowers are hidden by foliage, remove any overhanging leaves.


If you can provide a temperature that does not drop below 5°C (41°F) you can grow your plant on from year to year. Cut it back by a third in February, leaving the main framework intact. Raise the temperature to 15°C (60°F) to start it into growth. When new shoots appear in spring, you can use some as cuttings to increase the number of plants.

Pests And Diseases

Red spider mites may attack your plant if the humidity level is low. Treatment: Spray the plant with water frequently to discourage red spider mites, and spray infested plants with insecticide.

Curled, sticky leaves are a sign of aphids, which attack young growth in spring and summer. Treatment: Spray with a pyrethrum-based insecticide.

Dry and withered leaves are usually the result of too little water or a draughty position.

Prevention: Water generously during the growing period and keep the plant Out of draughts.


This plant is easy to grow as an annual. It needs a bit more care to grow it as a long-lived perennial.

  • Potting: Pot up seedlings in a soil-based potting compost. Move into larger pots as required until a 20cm (8in) size pot is reached. Alternatively, plant in a greenhouse border.
  • Water generously during the active growing period, allowing the compost to dry out just a little between applications. Water sparingly in winter.
  • Feeding: Apply a tomato-type liquid fertilizer every 2 weeks once flower buds are obvious. Stopfeeding in mid-autumn.


  • Light: This plant needs full sun to promote long and profuse flowering. It tolerates direct sunlight.
  • Temperature: In summer, normal room temperature will suit it. In winter, keep it cool, but not below 5°C (41°F), and you will be able_to grow it on from year to year.

Buying Tips

  • Buy young plants 23-25cm (9-10in) tall in spring from garden centres or nurseries.
  • Choose healthy plants with good leaf growth and plenty of shoots. Avoid any with bare stems or yellow leaves.
  • This plant is usually discarded after flowering if grown indoors, but it can live for years in a conservatory.

A vigorous climbing plant, the Cup-and-Saucer Vine will quickly cover a greenhouse or conservatory wall, and provide you with a colourful show of flowers from May to October.

More Information

Cobaea scandens is a vigorous climber which does well in a sheltered position, and will cover a 6-m (20-ft) wall, flower, and die, all in a summer. Although it is a perennial in its native Mexico, in Britain it is grown outside as an annual. It climbs by its tendrils, and they need a framework, wires or netting on the wall or fence, round which to twist themselves. It is called the ‘cup and saucer plant’ because of the shape of its flowers, which are 5 cm (2 inches) to 7.5 cm (3 inches) long, and have a purple ‘cup’ and a green ‘saucer’. They appear from June to October.

General care: Cobaea needs full sun, and shelter. The soil should have some peat or decaying vegetation worked in to retain moisture, but beware of giving this plant a humus-rich soil, which will encourage leaf growth at the expense of flowers. Cobaea climbs, then spreads. To encourage this habit, which leads to the flowers multiplying, pinch out the growing tips of the shoots. To keep the plant growing, water generously in dry weather. Propagation: From seed, either sown in April where the plant is to grow, or in pots under glass or indoors ready for planting out when all risk of frost has passed. The large seed should be sown on its side, since if you sow it upside-down it will not germinate. Pests and diseases: Cobaea are generally disease-free, but aphids attack the young shoots. Spray with dimethoate, formothion or menazon (all systemic) or malathion.



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