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A Comprehensive Guide to Prairie Rosinweed (Silphium terebinthinaceum)

Prairie Rosinweed (Silphium terebinthinaceum) is a herbaceous perennial that is native to the midwestern and eastern United States and the province of Ontario in Canada. This plant is a host to a species of moth and is an important nectar source for other insects. Growing from 1 to 8.5 feet tall, this species grows in open areas such prairies, fens, and disturbed areas. The yellow flowers bloom from July to September and the plant is hardy in zones 4-8.

Taxonomy and Naming of Prairie Rosinweed (Silphium terebinthinaceum)

Herbarium specimen of prairie rosinweed (Silphium terebinthinaceum var. terebinthinaceum).
Herbarium Specimen — Silphium terebinthinaceum var. terebinthainaceum Jacq. collected in United States of America by The New York Botanical Garden (licensed under CC BY 4.0)
Herbarium specimen of prairie rosinweed (Silphium terebinthinaceum var. pinnatifidum).
Herbarium Specimen — Silphium terebinthinaceum var. pinnatifidum (Elliott) A.Gray by The New York Botanical Garden (licensed under CC BY 4.0)

Taxonomy

Prairie Rosinweed (Silphium terebinthinaceum) was named and described by Nikolaus Joseph Freiherr von Jacquin, a European scientist, in 1770. It still has the same name and is a member of the Aster Family (Asteraceae).

Varieties

This species has two varieties (Flora of North America):

  • var. pinnatifidum: leaves pinnately lobed
  • var. terebinthinaceum: leaves not lobed

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, terebinthinaceum, is Latin for “like turpentine” referring to the odor of the plant (US Forest Service).

Common Name and Alternative Names

The common name, Prairie Rosinweed, describes the common habitat of the species.

Physical Description

Yellow flower of prairie rosinweed (Silphium terebinthinaceum).
Flower of Prairie Rosinweed (Silphium terebinthinaceum) — Patrick Alexander from Las Cruces, NM, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Plant Type: This plant is a herbaceous perennial.
  • Height: 1 to 8.5 feet tall
  • Stem: The stems are erect, terete, and glabrous (Flora of North America)
  • Leaves: The cauline leaves are alternate, petiolate to sessile, lanceolate to ovate, and have toothed or entire margins (Flora of North America). The leaves are 1 to 16 inches long and 0.4 to 16 inches wide. The upper surface may be glabrous (Steyermark 1951) or scabrous.
  • 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 Prairie Rosinweed in the United States and Canada

Range map of prairie rosinweed (Silphium terebinthinaceum) in the United States and Canada.
Range Map Credit: Kartesz, J.T., The Biota of North America Program (BONAP). 2023.(website https://bonap.org/). 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 and eastern United States and the province of Ontario in Canada. Silphium terebinthinaceum var. terebinthinaceum is common throughout its range while var. pinnatifidum is rare throughout its range in the states of Alabama, Georgia, Illinios, Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

Habitat

Prairie habitat in the state of Ohio.
Prairie Habitat — Sixflashphoto, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This species grows in open areas such as prairies (Henry 1985 and Gleason 1917), fens (Bultman 1992), diabase barrens (Weakley and Poindexter 2012 and Taft and Solecki 1990), chart barrens (Homoya 1994), limestone and dolomite glades (Palmer and Steyermark 1935), powerline right-of-ways (Etheridge 1990), and other disturbed places.

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 silphius borer moth (Papaipema silphii).

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does this plant have any ethnobotanical uses?

The Native American Ethobotanical Database does not list this species specifically, but other members of the genus have been used for pharmaceuticals and food.

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

The large flowering heads (15-25 mm wide) and the >14 ray flowers separate this species from others in its genus (Weakley, et al 2022).

Is this plant invasive?

This plant has been noted as being invasive in the literature.

Gardening with Prairie Rosinweed

Add Prairie Rosinweed to Your Garden

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Yellow flowers of prairie rosinweed (Silphium terebinthinaceum).
Flowers of Prairie Rosinweed (Silphium terebinthinaceum) — peganum from Henfield, England, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Hardiness

This species is hardy in zones 4-8. 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 benefitted by those plants in the east.

Optimal Conditions

This species grows in full sun and prefers medium to dry well-drained soil that is circumneutral (Palmer and Steyermark 1935).

References

  • Bultman, Thomas L. 1992. Abundance and Associaton of Cursorial Spiders from Calcareous Fens in Southern Missouri. Journal of Arachnology 20(3): 165-172.
  • Etheridge, Brenda. 1990. Carolina Power & Light Company Protects Rare Plants on Power Line Rights-of-Way. Natural Areas Journal 10(2): 92.
  • Gleason, Herny A. 1917. A Prairie Near Ann Arbor, Michigan. Rhodora 19: 163-165.
  • Henry, R.D. 1985. A Survey of Some Remnants of the Native Flora of West-Central Illinois USA. Phytologia 57: 97-106.
  • Homoya, Michael A. 1994. Indiana Barrens: Classification and Description. Castanea 59(3): 204-213.
  • Palmer, Ernest J. and Julian A. Steyermark. 1935. An annotated Catalogue of the Flowering Plants of Missouri. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 22: 375-758.
  • Steyermark, Juilan A. 1951. A glabrous variety of Silphium terebinthinaceum. Rhodora 53: 133-135.
  • Taft, John B. and M.K. Solecki. 1990. Vascular Flora of the Wetland and Prairie Communities of Gavin Bog and Prairie Nature Preserve, Lake County, Illinois. Rhodora 92: 142-165.
  • Weakley, A.S., and the Southeastern Flora Team 2022. Flora of the Southeastern United States. University of North Carolina Herbarium, North Carolina Botanical Garden.
  • Weakley, A.S. and D.B. Poindexter. 2012. A new species of Marshallia (Asteraceae, Helenieae, Marshaillinae) from Mafic woodlands and barrens of North Carolina and Virginia. Phytoneuron 2012-105: 1-17.
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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.

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