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 native 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 12ft 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 15ft woody taproot. The extensive root system allows the plant above ground to be susceptible to the elements while 15ft 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. Learn more about how to attract monarch to your yard.

Birds and smaller mammals like to feast on the large seeds that are prolific in the fall. Many long-tongued bees are the top pollinators, this includes bumblebees, miner bees, and the like. Other variations of “flies” will help pollinate, however not as strong as bees.

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.

Problems that may arise, will be common with plants at such a height; 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 name from the orientation of the basal leaves. They are said to always be on the North-South axis, this aids 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, Meadow Rue (Thalictrum dasycarpum), Wild Quinine (Parthenium integrifolium), Culvers Root (Veronicastrum virginicum) and Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis), to name a few. These plantings would create a large prairie and a practical privacy grove in the growing months.

Smaller plants to take shape in the fore-ground 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)

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