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.

Please visit our sponsors

  • Minnesota Native Plant Society

Where to buy native seed and plants ↓

Map of native plant purveyors in the upper midwest

  • Morning Sky Greenery - Native Prairie Plants
  • Minnesota Native Landscapes - Your Ecological Problem Solvers
  • Natural Shore Technologies - Using science to improve land and water
  • Itasca Ladyslipper Farm - Native orchids, container grown
  • Prairie Restorations - Bringing people together with the land

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

Post a comment

Note: All comments are moderated before posting to keep the riff-raff out. An email address is required, but will not be posted—it will only be used for information exchange between the 2 of us (if needed) and will never be given to a 3rd party without your express permission.

For info on subjects other than plant identification (gardening, invasive species control, edible plants, etc.), please check the links and invasive species pages for additional resources.


Note: Comments or information about plants outside of Minnesota and neighboring states may not be posted because Id like to keep the focus of this web site centered on Minnesota. Thanks for your understanding.