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A Comprehensive Guide to Compassplant (Silphium laciniatum)

Compassplant (Silphium laciniatum) is a herbaceous perennial that is native to the midwestern United States and the province of Ontario in Canada. This plant is a host to two species of moth and a butterfly and is an important nectar source for other insects. Growing from 1 to 10 feet tall, this species grows in open areas such prairies and disturbed areas. The yellow flowers bloom from July to September and the plant is hardy in zones 3-8.

Taxonomy and Naming of Compassplant (Silphium laciniatum)

Herbarium specimen of compassplant (Silphium laciniatum).
Herbarium Specimen — Silphium laciniatum L. collected in United States of America by The New York Botanical Garden (licensed under CC BY 4.0)


Compassplant (Silphium laciniatum) was named and described by Carl von Linnaeus, in 1753. It still has the same name and is a member of the Aster Family (Asteraceae).

Meaning of the Scientific and Common Names

Scientific Name

The genus name, Silphium, is derived from a Greek word that originated from a resin-bearing plant (Missouri Botanical Garden). The species name, laciniatum, is Latin for the cut leaves (Missouri Botanical Garden).

Common Name and Alternative Names

The common name derives from the fact that the flowers orient in a north to south direction and was used as a “compass” by early settlers on the prairie. This plant is also called Compass Plant, with space between compass and plant.

Physical Description

Plants of compassplant (Silphium laciniatum) in a field.
Compassplant (Silphium laciniatum) — Eric Hunt, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Plant Type: This plant is a herbaceous perennial.
  • Height: 1 to 10 feet tall
  • Stem: The stems are erect, terete, and hirsute to scabrous (Flora of North America).
  • Leaves: The leaves are opposite, petiolate to sessile, lanceolate, linear to ovate, and have toothed to entire margins (Flora of North America). The leaves are 1.5 to 23 inches long and 0.4 to 12 inches wide.
  • Flower color: yellow
  • Blooming period: This plant blooms from July to September.
  • Fruiting type and period: This plant has achenes that mature in the late fall and winter.

Range of Compassplant in the United States and Canada

Range map of compassplant (Silphium laciniatum) in the United States and Canada.
Range Map Credit: Kartesz, J.T., The Biota of North America Program (BONAP). 2023.(website Chapel Hill, N.C. [maps generated from Kartesz, J.T. 2023. Floristic Synthesis of North America, Version 1.0. Biota of North America Program (BONAP). (in press)]

This species is native in the mid-western, south-central, and parts of the eastern United States and Ontario in Canada. It is considered to be rare in the states of South Dakota, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, and the province of Ontario. It is adventive in New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.


Prairie habitat in United States.
Prairie Habitat — USFWS Mountain-Prairie, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This species grows in open areas such as prairies (Henry 1985), meadows (Sisk and Sisk 1966), sandstone glades – Lousiana (MacRoberts and MacRoberts 1993), dolomitic glades – Missouri (Erickson, et al 1942), dry rocky limestone (Hansen 2010), calcareous to circumneutral soils (Steyermark 1934), and roadsides.

Hosted Insects

Silphium borer moth (Papaimea silphii) on beige background.
Silphium Borer Moth — Papaipema silphii Bird, 1915 observed in United States of America by Matt Kenne (licensed under CC0 1.0)

The members of the Silphium genus are hosts to the bordered patch (Chlosyne lacinia) butterfly in the western United States and the silphius borer moth (Papaipema silphii) throughout. In addition, a gall wasp (Antistrophus rufus) uses this species for galls (Tooker, et al 2004), the goldenrod leaf miner (Microrhopala vittata) (McCauley 1938), and a plant-hopper (Scolops osborni) (Ball 1930) is hosted by this species.

Other Supported Wildlife

Honeybee on purple flower.
Purple Aster with Honeybee — John Severns (Severnjc), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This species is an important nectar source to other butterflies, skippers, bees, and wasps. It has been noted in literature that females of the Diana Fritillary (Speyeria diana) prefer this species for nectaring (Moran and Baldridge 2002). Some small mammals such as the eastern woodrat feed on this plant (Rainey 1956).

Frequently Asked Questions

Does this plant have any ethnobotanical uses?

The Native American Ethobotanical Database shows that this species has been used for vetinary medicine, witchcraft, a tonic, and as a food (candy).

How is this plant distinguished from other Rosinweeds (Silphium spp.)?

The leafy stem, pinnatifid leaves, and yellow flowers separate this species from the others in the genus (Weakley, et al 2022).

Is this plant invasive?

This plant has not been noted as being invasive.

Gardening with Compassplant

Add Compassplant to Your Garden

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Yellow flowers of compassplant.
Flowers of Compassplant (Silphium laciniatum) — Frank Mayfield, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons


This species is hardy in zones 3-8. If your garden is within these zones and you have the right growing conditions (soil, moisture and exposure), you may well be able to grow this plant. However, if planted outside of its range, the hosted species may not recognize the plant or be harmed by ingesting a different species with an unfamiliar chemical composition. For instance, only part of the range of the species overlaps with the bordered patch butterfly. This butterfly would not be benefited by those plants in the east.

Optimal Conditions

This species grows in full sun and prefers dry circumneutral to calcareous well-drained soil, but can handle moist soil.


  • Ball, E.D. 1930. A new species and variety of Scolops with notes on others (Rhynchota, Fulgoridae). Pan-Pacific Entomologist 7: 9-11.
  • Erickson, Ralph O., Louis G. Brenner, and Joseph Wraight. 1942. Dolomitic Glades of East-Central Missouri. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 29: 89-101.
  • Hansen, Laura L. 2010. Annotated Checklist of the Vascular Plants of Fort Hood, Texas. Journal of the Botanical Rsearch Institute of Texas 4: 523-558.
  • Henry, R.D. 1985. A Survey of Some Remnants of the Native Flora of West-Central Illinois USA. Phytologia 57: 97-106.
  • MacRoberts, Barbara R. and Michael H. MacRoberts. 1993. Floristics of two Lousiana sandstone glades. Phytologia 74: 431-437.
  • McCauley, R.H. 1938. A revision of the genus Microrhopala in North America, North of Mexico. Bulletin of the Brooklyn Entomological Society 33: 145-168.
  • Moran, Matthew D. and Charles D. Baldridge. 2002. Distribution of the Diana Fritillary, Speyeria diana (Nymphalidae) in Arkansas, with notes on nectar plant and habitat preference. Journal of the Lepidopterists Society 56(3): 162-165.
  • Rainey, Dennis G. 1956. Eastern Woodrat, Neotoma floridana Life History and Ecology. University of Kansas Publications, Museum of Natural History 8: 535-646.
  • Sisk, Jane S. and M.E. Sisk. 1966. Edible Wild Spermatophytes of Calloway County, Kentucky. Transactions of the Kentucky Academy of Science 27: 5-15.
  • Steyermark, Julian A. 1934. Some Features of the Flora of the Ozark Region in Missouri. Rhodora 36: 214-233.
  • Tooker, John F., Andrew R. Deans, Lawrence M. Hanks. 2004. Description of the Antistrophus rufus (Hymenoptera: Cynipidae) Species Complex, Including Two New Species. Journal of the Hymenoptera Research 13: 125-133.
  • Weakley, A.S., and the Southeastern Flora Team. 2022. Flora of the Southeastern United States. University of North Carolina Herbarium, North Carolina Botanical Garden.
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Robert Coxe

Robert Coxe

Robert Coxe is a professional ecologist and botanist who has worked as the State Ecologist of Delaware and as an ecologist for the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. He is also a former Past-President of the Pennsylvania Academy of Science. He currently is an innkeeper at McMullen House Bed & Breakfast LLC and a web designer and owner for Silphium Design LLC.