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Compass Plant

Common Name: Compass Plant.

Scientific Name: Silphium Laciniatum.

What to look for?  Tall, yellow “sunflower”. The central stem is thick, hairy, and light green. In the upper part of the plant, there is some branching into flowering stems. The basal leaves are long and oblong. The leaves become much smaller as they ascend up the stem. The inflorescence is very tall with yellow composite flowers that resemble wild sunflowers. A mature Compass Plant may have from six (6) to more than two dozen of these composite flowers. There is little floral scent. The seeds are large, but flat and light enough to be carried by the wind. There is also a large central taproot.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? Compass Plants may be found in fields along the walking path along our ponds as well as Stonegate West and fields adjacent to the forest preserve.

How big are they? The Compass Plant is typically from six (6) feet to over ten (10) feet tall. The oblong leaves are up to two (2) feet long and up to one (1) foot across. The flowers are four (4) inches across.

Where do they grow and thrive? The Compass Plant is native to the black soil farm belt area of the United States but found in many of the adjacent states. This is a typical plant of black soil prairies in the tallgrass region. Other habitats include sand prairies, savannas, glades, and areas along railroads.

When do they bloom? The blooming period of the Compass Plant usually starts in mid-summer, and typically lasts about six (6) weeks.

Do birds, insects or other wildlife associate with this plant? The primary pollinators of the flowers of the Compass Plant are bumblebees. Occasionally, Monarchs and other butterflies visit the flowers for nectar. Goldfinches and other small birds eat the seeds.

Interesting Facts About the Compass Plant:

  • The common name – Compass Plant - derives from the belief by pioneers that the leaves pointed in a north-south direction (Caution: not as reliable as advertised; keep cellphone handy).

  • The dried sap of this resinous plant was chewed as gum by Native Americans and pioneers.

  • No tallgrass prairie is complete without a sizable population of Compass Plants.

For more information on the Compass Plant and sources of information used in this blog (these are several of the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit Illinois Wildflowers, Minnesota Wildflowers, Kansas Wildflowers and Missouri Department of Conservation.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, insects and plants. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.


Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

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