Silphium laciniatum (Compass Plant)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Asteraceae (Aster)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:sun; dry to average sandy or loamy soil; prairies, glades, railroads, roadsides
Bloom season:July - September
Plant height:3 to 10 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:none
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 7+petals Cluster type: panicle

[photo of flowers] Small clusters of stalked flowers at the top of the stem and arising singly or in small clusters from the upper leaf axils. Flowers are 2½ to 4 inches across with 17 to 35 yellow petals (ray flowers) that are fertile and have a split style protruding from the short tube at the base. The center disk flowers are sterile, yellow, tubular with 5 triangular lobes and a column of brown stamens with long, stringy style-like tips.

[photo of bracts] Bracts are in 2 or 3 layers, generally lance-shaped with a pointed tip that is often spreading. Bracts and flower stalks are densely covered in long, spreading, white hairs. Flower stalks are generally short on the lower stem and longer above.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf attachment: basal Leaf type: lobed Leaf type: simple

[photo of basal leaves] Leaves are deeply divided into linear-oblong lobes, pointed at the tips, densely covered in short hairs, and the edges toothless or with a few irregular teeth or smaller lobes. Basal leaves are erect, stalked or stalkless, 1 to 2 feet long and about half as wide.

[photo of stem leaf] Stem leaves become smaller and shorter stalked as they ascend the stem, the uppermost leaves reduced to bracts and typically unlobed. Stems are erect, unbranched except in the flowers, stout, and densely covered in long, spreading hairs.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

Fruit is a dry, flat seed that forms from the ray flowers on the outer ring of the disk.


Compass Plant is easy to distinguish from other Silphium species in Minnesota from the deeply divided leaves and densely hairy bracts and stem. The common name comes from the tendency of basal leaves to orient themselves vertically in a north-south direction to avoid the full brunt of the sun.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken at Iron Horse Prairie SNA, Dodge County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Dodge County and in a private garden in Anoka County.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Tom C - New Hope, MN
on: 2016-10-03 14:19:39

The City of New Hope has planted a mixture of wildflowers along Bassett Creek in Northwood Park. The compass plant is one of the plants they used. The are a perfect flower for this setting as they are very showy among the taller vegetation.

Posted by: Kenny h - East of rose creek on shooting star trail
on: 2017-07-13 13:48:20

I love this time of year on the Shooting Star Trail...Compass Plant and Michigan Lily towering above other year I will be planting a 1/4 acre prairie garden...I would appreciate tips on collecting Compass Plant seed

Posted by: Shari F - Dora township, Ottertail county, Vergas
on: 2018-04-22 19:50:45

We planted a bag of wildflower seeds along our shed to stabilize the ground in 1999. It took 12 years before it bloomed. Now it blooms every other year. When it was first growing the deer loved the leaves, so we fenced it so it could survive. When it blooms now it reaches a height of 12 to 13 feet. We saw compass plants at PWLC in Fergus Falls & we knew then what we had. I am trying to get the seeds to grow but have not had success with this

Posted by: David Tidaback - Falcon Heights
on: 2018-09-01 19:05:51

IN the State fairgrounds, on the DNR grounds, south of the fish pond. Plants about 8-9 feet tall, in bloom during the fair.

Posted by: Patrick Collins - Lindstrom
on: 2019-06-02 06:12:49

Compass plant grows in our school garden at Chisago Lakes Middle School in Lindstrom, MN.

Posted by: Stephanie Brown - Buffalo
on: 2021-06-25 18:58:37

This plant is growing in Veterans Memorial Park in Buffalo. They are starting to bloom right now.

Posted by: Earl N Johnson - Detroit Lakes
on: 2021-07-15 13:15:08

Compass Plant is growing in George Mitchell Park in Detroit Lakes. I have pictures of it taken 8/13/2020 in full bloom. There were 5 plants, 2 were blooming and 3 had no blooms, perhaps because they were not old enough. I am watching them this year, anxious to see how many plants are there and how many bloom in 2021. While working in SW MN, I regularly saw them on our better quality prairies but was surprised to see them in Becker County.

Posted by: Robert W Paddock - Augusta, WI 54722
on: 2021-07-18 17:56:56

Never give up. I planted 6 in sphagnum pots. Deer ate them off. replanted and protected them with plastic mesh tree shelters, also expanded the grass free area around plants. Shelters melted when prairie was burned. marked with stakes Today July 18 10 years later there are 4 stalks with blooms. Deer really like this plant, and I thought they were killed

Posted by: Thomas Oots - South of Wild Indigo SNA & North of 245st NE of Austin, MN
on: 2023-09-25 14:37:29

Most of population off right-of-way from 245th. On Permanent CRP ground. West of 555th Ave.

Posted by: Paige Hulne - Austin MN
on: 2023-10-08 09:02:14

Saw this plant at the Jay C Hormel nature center in late September, specifically the field on the north side of the park. First time I?ve ever seen this species.

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