Silphium laciniatum ) is an impressive prairie wildflower, with yellow flowers growing on stalks that can be over 8 feet high. The flowers are similar to those of other Silphiums, like the Cup Plant, but the Compass Plants leaves are distinctive. The two-foot long, deeply cut leaves create a striking profile for this plant even without its tall flowerstalk. The leaves also give the Compass Plant its name since they tend to align on a north-south axis. Research by botanists at Iowa State provides evidence that this leaf orientation uses sunlight and water most efficiently. Deep roots (over 12 feet long [pdf]) allow the compass plant to thrive even during dry summers.
Threatened species in Michigan. It is more widely distributed in the central and plains states. The plants pictured here were blooming at the Kalamazoo Nature Center's restored prairie.
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