Compass Plant

Silphium laciniatum

Description & Overview

Creating a mass of up to 30 yellow, sunflower-like blooms, Compass Plant is a statement to any wildflower landscape. Serving as the focal point of the garden or the backdrop, there are many ways to incorporate this Wisconsin native plant into a landscape. Compass Plant is great for attracting wildlife; the seeds are delicious to birds and the flowers are a great nectar source for insects. The low amount of maintenance this plant requires can make Compass Plant a great addition to a native landscape. May also be known as Pilot Plant.

Core Characteristics

Mature Height: 3-10 feet
Mature Spread: 1.5-3 feet
Growth Rate: Perennial
Growth Form: Upright
Light Requirements: Full Sun
Site Requirements: Average, well-drained soil. Tolerant of temporary poor conditions
Flower: Bright yellow sunflower-like blooms
Bloom Period: July- September
Foliage: Large 12-24″ green basal leaves with white hairs, lanceolate overall
Fall Color: N/A
Fruit Notes: Large seeds, flat and light. They are carried by wind.

Suggested Uses:

Reaching up to 12′ tall, Compass Plant creates a wonderful backdrop to any prairie or wildflower setting. Having as many as 30 blooms at once can create quite the pop of color when paired with other native plants. Plant Silphium laciniatum in a location with full sun and mild moisture. The bright yellow sunflower-like blooms will show off well into September until the large seeds are dispersed by wind.

Compass Plant is a tough native, as one of the taller interests in a wildflower prairie, its’ strengths don’t end there – it can also withstand occasional fires and mild flooding. The reason for such resistance to adversity is the 15′ deep woody taproot. The extensive root system allows the plant above ground to be susceptible to the elements while under the surface, the root system is unaffected.

Wildlife Value:

Compass Plant serves as a nectar source for Monarchs as well as many butterflies and insects, both native and non-native including Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, Ottoe skippers, Fiery skippers, Monarchs, Clouded sulphurs, and Painted Ladies. Learn more about how to attract monarch to your yard.

It is a host plant to the Rosinweed moth and Giant Eucosma moth.

Birds and smaller mammals like to feast on the large seeds that are prolific in the fall, especially goldfinches, sparrows, chickadees, and redpolls.

Long-tongued bees are the top pollinators including bumblebees and miner bees, small carpenter bees, cuckoo bees, eastern carpenter bees, long-horned bees, and leafcutter bees. Short-tongued bees such as various sweat bees will also visit. Hoverflies, drone flies, grasshopper bee flies, and thick-headed flies help pollinate; however, not as much as bees.

The Apical Rosinweed Gall wasp will form galls at the top of the flower stalk which in turn attracts a parasitic wasp, Eurytoma lutea, which feeds on the larvae of the gall wasp.

Maintenance Tips:

Compass Plant can be very easily grown after it is established. In a well-drained site, the maintenance is limited including only minimal care. The foliage will die back naturally over the late fall and winter season, so pruning is not necessary.


Compass Plant has very minimal pest problems. Generally, visitors are beneficial to native ecosystems.

Powdery Mildew may arise if leaves are kept too moist during the warm humid months. This problem can be alleviated by watering from the base of the plant and not the foliage. This is not a fatal problem but can be unsightly and cause affected leaves to drop off.

With plants of such heights, falling over when planted on a slope, when in bloom, and in heavy winds is a typical occurrence of the species.

Leaf Lore:

Compass Plant gets its common name from the orientation of the basal leaves. They are said to always be on the North-South axis, to aid the plant in avoiding the intense western or eastern sunlight.

Compass Plant produces a resin that was once used as mouth-cleansing chewing gum.

Companion Plants:

Larger natives that pair well with Compass Plants are more Silphium family members such as Meadow Rue (Thalictrum dasycarpum), Wild Quinine (Parthenium integrifolium), Culver’s Root (Veronicastrum virginicum) and Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis). These plantings would create a large prairie and a practical privacy grove in the growing months.

Smaller plants to take shape in the foreground are options like Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), Heath Aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides), Sweet Fern (Comptonia peregrina), Goldenrods (Solidago flexicaulis, Solidago ptarmicoides, Solidago ulmnifolia), or even members of the Milkweed family (Asclepias spp) such as Butterflyweed.

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