Tom's Blog

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The power of the compass plant

The compass plant (Silphium laciniatum) is an archetype of the prairie. (It is part of the logo of the Prairie Enthusiasts.) It should be included in the seed mix for every planted prairie.

The compass plant is one of the most conspicuous plants of the so-called tallgrass prairie. With favorable growing conditions, its flower heads are often over 8 feet tall.

The compass plant is a very deep rooted plant, with roots extending 6 to 12 feet underground. In the first years of a prairie planting, only one or a few leaves are visible, while the root system is becoming established. Except under extremely favorable conditions, flowering will not occur until the fourth or fifth year, sometimes even longer. Once established, however, the compass plant is very long lived.

We have had excellent success with compass plant in our planted prairies, and it is also thriving in the open areas of our savannas. It has also turned up in unexpected locations.

The photo here shows it growing right next to our driveway. How did it get there? In this location it is actually part of the Valley Prairie, which was planted in the fall of 2002. At that time, our driveway was a narrow dirt strip. Later, as our restoration work got more intense, we had to have the driveway graveled. This is the first year that this prairie (now in its seventh growing season) has had flowering compass plants.

In one of our other prairies, compass plant (as well as its cousin prairie dock) has managed to grow through a heavy coating of gravel and send up a vigorous flowering stock.

Never underestimate the power of the prairie (or prairie plant)!


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