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Flora Feature: Compass Plant

Posted on 7/17/2020
by Malena Brotherson, Environmental Education Intern

The Compass Plant, Silphium laciniatum, is in the spotlight today as it is blooming across Pottawattamie County and throughout the Midwest. This prairie plant is a native perennial that can grow 3 to 8 feet tall! It can be seen in remnant & reclaimed prairies throughout Pottawattamie County & blooms early July through early August. It is a part of the Asteraceae, or sunflower family with bright yellow ray florets surrounding smaller, yellow disc florets. 

A Compass Plant in bloom, Badger Ridge Trail at Hitchcock Nature Center

The Compass Plant gets its unique name from its leaves, its large, deeply lobed leaves orient themselves in a north to south direction in order to avoid the strong rays of the midday sun. While these sandpaper-like leaves usually give a good approximation of compass points they don’t always orient themselves with absolute accuracy but they are close enough to ensure this unique plant deserves its name. 

Compass Plant with leaves oriented north to south, Badger Ridge Trail at Hitchcock Nature Center

This plant is known for more than just its directional leaves, small mammals and birds eat the seeds produced by the Compass Plant while its flowers attract butterflies, bees, and other insects. The Compass Plant can be grazed by livestock and is favored in its juvenile state, & the sap has been used as a chewing gum. 


Featured Photo: Frank Mayfield / CC BY-SA (

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Flora Feature: Germander (7/23/2020)
by Malena Brotherson, Environmental Education Intern

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Turtles of Iowa (7/7/2020)
by Kristen Yost, 2020 Environmental Education Intern

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