Compass Plant Information: Tips On Compass Plant Uses In Gardens

Compass Plant Information: Tips On Compass Plant Uses In Gardens

By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer

Compass plant (Silphium laciniatrum) is a native of the American prairies. Unfortunately, like the prairielands, the plant is declining due to loss of habitat. Growing compass plant flowers in the garden is one way to ensure this lovely plant doesn’t disappear from the American landscape. Read on to learn more about garden compass plants.

Compass Plant Information

Compass plants look much like wild sunflowers, but although they are both members of the Asteraceae family, they are not the same plant. Compass plants are tall plants with sturdy, bristly stems that reach heights of 9 to 12 feet. The deeply cut leaves, which resemble oak leaves, can reach lengths of 12 to 18 inches. Clusters of bright yellow, daisy-like flowers bloom on the upper part of the plant during the hot summer months.

According to available compass plant information, the plant’s unusual name was granted by early settlers who believed the plant’s huge basal leaves point north-south. While this is often true, a compass is more reliable. The growth direction is likely a way for the plant to maximize water and sunlight in the rugged prairie environment.

Compass Plant Uses

Compass plant is a natural in a wildflower meadow, prairie garden or a native plant garden. Important compass plant uses include its ability to attract a number of important pollinators, including a variety of native bees and several types of butterfly, including the Monarch butterfly. Locate this towering plant behind shorter wildflowers.

Compass Plant Care

Compass plant care is minimal as long as the plant is sited in full sun and moist to slightly dry, well-drained soil. The plant needs deep soil to accommodate its long taproot, which can reach lengths of 15 feet.

The best way to start compass plant is to sow seeds directly in the garden, either unstratified seeds in autumn or stratified seeds in spring.

Be patient; two or three years are required for compass plant seedlings to grow into full-size, blooming plants, as most the energy is directed towards development of the roots. However, once the plant is established, it can survive for up to 100 years. Established plants self-seed readily.

Compass plant is drought-tolerant but benefits from occasional watering, especially during hot weather. Be aware that the compass plant can become top heavy, especially when planted on windy slopes.

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Meadow Garden Compass Plant - Learn About Growing Compass Plant Flowers - garden

Wildflowers are plants that grow in the wild, some are native others were introduced by European settlers (i.e. Queen Anne's lace, chicory, daisy and dandelion).

Midway through the drought of 2001, I headed out to visit a native plants nursery and garden just outside of Brantford, Ontario. I wasn't expecting to see much colour, after all, many of the lawns (and many gardens) around Southern Ontario were waning by this time.

When Ken Parker, owner of Sweet Grass Gardens, led me on a tour of his meadow garden, I was impressed. Towering cup plant, wild bergamot, quinine, compass plant and pale purple coneflower shone in the brilliant afternoon sunshine, they seemed oblivious to the lack of rain.

Even more surprising, this garden was designed to thrive in clay soils. No matter how many fancy gardening books you may read (and I have read my share) seldom, if ever, will you see the words 'clay' and 'recommended soil' in the same description.

Clay soils are tricky. During wet spells, they hold the moisture and are often waterlogged. Low-lying clay based gardens are often the last areas we can get started on in the springtime. My own garden is a good example. In certain areas in late March, there even appears to be a stream running along the borders. By mid-summer, the same gardens can be riddled with crevices, a sign of very dry conditions. The same patch of soil can go from one extreme to the other within a couple of short months. It is little wonder that tips for gardening on clay soils attracts the immediate attention of garden enthusiasts faced with these conditions.

Parker's planting recommendations for a native plants garden are easy to follow (and inexpensive). Mark out the garden turn the sod over, top dress with 20 cm of sand, and plant. Cover the bare soil around the plants with a several layers of newspaper (or landscape fabric). Finally, cover the newspapers with a blanket of shredded bark mulch. Water and then leave them alone. Water again only if the young plants droop during dry spells. Cut back the previous year's growth in early spring when the new shoots emerge.

As you can see, this garden will require very little in the line of maintenance once established. Very little weeding, watering and no fertilizing are required. This is truly low maintenance gardening. As an added bonus, the native plants will provide a habitat for wildlife such as butterflies, moths, bees, birds and small animals. While I would not recommend this type of garden for a front garden in suburbia, a challenging corner of the backyard, cottage, neighbourhood park or schoolyard may be the ideal spot to try a native garden.

Parker suggested a visit to one of his recent projects to experience a large-scale meadow garden. Approaching Chiefswood Park, I could see an impressive tapestry of colour stretching toward the historic home of E. Pauline Johnson (Mohawk poet and author). Surrounded by simple lawns and mature trees, the garden stood like an island of inviting, sparkling colour.

The planting resembled a Monet painting where yellows, pinks and mauves blended into a soothing haze above a sea of green. Mowed pathways encouraged visitors to experience the garden at eye and nose level. It was a simple yet memorable journey.

With camera and tripod in hand, I slowly wound my way along the pathway. (There were innumerable photo opportunities for a camera buff such as myself). The experience was like being a child once again, dwarfed by five and six foot tall coreopsis, with wild bergamot, cup plant, Joe Pye weed and coneflowers dancing with the bees and butterflies in the afternoon sunlight. Fuzzy, caterpillar-like flower heads of Canada rye grass waved in the gentle breeze. Surprisingly, there were several levels of bloom within the meadow. In the mid-range, little bluestem grass, pale purple coneflowers and switch grass offered good displays. Decidedly, orange butterfly weed and pink-purple Ohio spiderwort punctuated the sea of green beneath the tall layers of bloom.

A native garden is not established overnight. A large-scale meadow garden such as the one at Chiefswood Park is planted by seed at a rate of 10 pounds per acre, and will take four to seven years to mature. This particular garden is still a youngster as gardens go. Container grown plants were being introduced to diversify and improve the existing mix. Contrary to many consumers' beliefs, seed cannot just be sprinkled on existing lawns and a wildflower garden will magically appear. Some effort and planning are still required for success.

It is of interest to note that many of the recommended plants will make wonderful additions to traditional borders. Switch grass forms an airy cloud of rosy blooms and seeds that last for months. I used the Ohio spiderwort as a container plant for my deck last summer, clusters of flowers bloomed non-stop above strap-like blue foliage for several months, and, did not sulk if I missed giving it a drink before going to work.

Theresa Forte is a columnist, photographer and garden consultant based in Niagara Falls, Ont.

Feng Shui Principles in Your Own Landscape

A connection to nature was maximized to create a suburban refuge rooted in the principles of a feng shui garden. Here are some of the other concepts that you can use in your own garden—just approach your space with an eye toward the geographic orientation of your yard. Does it actually work? Who knows—but a feng shui garden design is certainly beautiful enough to bring harmony to your landscape.


Energy: Wealth/career

Element: Water

Colors: Black, purple, blue

Garden element: Rocks and boulders (like the basalt water feature in the photo above)


Energy: Personal and spiritual growth

Element: Earth

Colors: Pink, yellow/ochre, earth tones

Garden element: Zen features like raked gravel or statuary


Energy: Family, longevity, and health

Element: Wood

Colors: Green

Garden element: Trees (like the river birch pictured above), wooden ornaments


Energy: Wealth, abundance, prosperity

Element: Wood

Colors: Green, blue, purple, red, gold (the last three being colors of royalty)

Garden element: Any growing thing, but especially red or purple flowers


Energy: Fame, accolades, success

Element: Fire

Colors: Red

Garden element: Fire pits, outdoor lighting (like torches), or barbecues


Energy: Love and romance, peace, relationships

Element: Earth

Colors: Beige, white, pink

Garden element: Outdoor dining area (like the table and chairs above the fire pit in the photo above)


Energy: Children, the future, joy, creativity

Element: Metal

Colors: Metallic tones of copper and silvery gray, plus white

Garden element: Metal wind chimes, or corten steel boxes (like those pictured above)


Energy: Travel, helpful friends

Element: Metal

Colors: Black, gray, white

Garden element: Paths to promote travel seating areas for friendly chats (both pictured above)

Keep the elements in mind and a compass in hand, and your feng shui garden could bring you a long, lucky life!

2015 APGA award winners include:

  • Award for Program Excellence: Recognizes an APGA member garden that displays a truly innovative spirit in program excellence in conservation, development, botany, gardening, horticulture, research, extension, or administration.
    • Winner (Small Garden): Water Conservation Garden (El Cajon, CA), “Ms. Smarty-Plants™” children’s conservation character
    • Winner (Large Garden): Chicago Botanic Garden (Glencoe, Ill), “Science Career Continuum (SCC)” program
  • Hansell Marketing Award: Pays tribute to Dorothy E. Hansell, a woman who championed excellence in horticultural and botanical journalism.
    • Winner (Small Garden): Gardens on Spring Creek (Fort Collins, CO), “Plant it Forward - Fighting Hunger from the Ground Up” garden to food bank campaign
    • Winner (Large Garden): Longwood Gardens (Kennett Square, PA), “Longwood Meadow Garden” marketing and communications campaign
  • Award of Merit: Recognizes an individual APGA member who has performed with distinction as part of an illustrious career in the field of public horticulture.
    • Winner: Donald Rakow, Ph.D., Associate Professor, School of Integrative Plant Science, Section of Horticulture, Cornell University
  • Horticulture Magazine Award for Garden Excellence: Recognizes a public garden that exemplifies the highest standards of horticultural practices.
    • Winner: Luci and Ian Family Garden, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Austin, TX
  • Professional Citation Award: Recognizes individual achievements, skills, innovation and potential in botany, horticulture, conservation, research, education, or administration.
    • Winner: Michael Dosmann, Ph.D., Curator of the Living Collections, Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University
    • Winner: Sandy Tanck, Manager of Interpretation, Minnesota Landscape Arboretum (Chaska, MO)
  • Service Award: Given to a member who has gone above self and has had a history of outstanding service to the association.
    • Winner: Barbara Faust, Associate Director, Smithsonian Gardens (Washington, DC), APGA member for 29 years
  • Honorary Life Member Award: Honors an individual who has supported the Association through active committee work, energetic membership, and leadership positions, and whose meritorious service has led to the advancement of the Association.
    • Winner: Holly Shimizu, Executive Director (Ret.), United States Botanic Garden (Washington, DC)

Co-hosted by the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and Como Park Zoo and Conservatory, the 2015 APGA annual conference included more than 800 professionals from public gardens across the United States and more than 15 countries worldwide.

The APGA award winners set a professional precedent for other individuals and organizations to follow. The nomination process begins in the fall and winners are announced during the annual APGA conference in June. An eight-member committee whose volunteers serve as leaders in the public garden community selected the finalists and winners.

Midsummer Highlights

Posted on July 31, 2013 by Nan Ondra

As promised, a follow-up to this month’s Bloom Day, but this time focusing on the meadow, garden shots, and combinations over the last six weeks.

While lilies have been a key theme of this summer in the garden, there are two stars in the meadow.

It’s easy to appreciate the milkweeds (Asclepias): besides all of the cool insects they attract, they are hard to miss and no trouble to identify. Four species grow wild in the meadow here: common milkweed (A. syriaca, July 4), above butterfly weed (A. tuberosa, July 4), below…

…swamp milkweed (A. incarnata, July 13), above and purple milkweed (A. purpurascens, June 19).

Another genus that’s been at its peak over this period is Pycnanthemum: the mountain mints. They’re not as easy to identify as the milkweeds (as far as I can tell, there are three different species here), and they aren’t nearly as colorful (white, white, or white), but they all have the most wonderfully intense scent.

This one is either P. muticum or P. incanum, in a patch about 3 feet tall and 12 feet across. You can see why this would be a scary one to let loose in a garden, even though it’s so tempting to want it keep it close to the house.

You can get a hint of the minty scent near the plants on hot days, but you really need to rub or brush against the leaves to release the fragrance. I’d love to fling myself into the center of that patch and roll around to be enveloped in minty goodness, but I’m not the only one who likes it: the entire patch practically quivers with all of the insects visiting the flowers: lots of different bees and wasps, as well as many kinds of butterflies.

On one side of the big patch, I found this sparse clump of another species: probably Pycnanthemum virginianum but maybe P. torrei. It looks like this one will soon be engulfed, but there’s plenty more of it elsewhere in the meadow. Those plants usually reach 3 to 4 feet tall. While this kind can also be a spreader, it seems far less competitive than the P. muticum/incanum.

The last one, slender mountain mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium), has the thinnest leaves. Here, it’s moderately vigorous, forming dense clumps about 12 to 18 inches tall and wide.

You’d expect that finding an orchid growing out in the tangle of grasses and other meadow denizens would be thrilling. And it is thrilling, but not the “oh, wow, look at THAT!” kind of thrilling, but more the “oh, wow, I almost mowed right over that” sort of relief-filled thrill.

This subtle little beauty is ragged fringed orchid (Platanthera lacera, July 4). Some years I have trouble finding even one this year, I was lucky enough to spot half a dozen. Most are single-stemmed, but a few have two stems. They seem to pop up in different places every year, so I’ve given up attempting to mark them and just try to watch out for them when I mow the meadow paths in early July.

Fortunately, most of the meadow highlights are much easier to spot. Below is one of the many clumps of Joe-Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum) on July 21, with a bit of Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum) coming up in the middle.

Just starting to flower at 7 feet tall, big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii, July 21), above, is hard to miss. Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium, July 21), below, reaches only 3 to 4 feet tall, but it’s now forming sizeable clumps that will look fantastic in fall and winter.

Above is a particularly blue clump of Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans). It’s about 40 inches in this shot (July 21). This is just one clump in a large patch that will be well over head height by fall.

Below is a grass that wasn’t here originally, though it could have been: eastern gamagrass (Tripsacum dactyloides). I originally bought one pot at a Pennsylvania native plant conference from a vendor who had named it ‘Emerald Scepter’. A couple years later, I asked him why he’d decided to name it—if it had any features particularly different from the species—and if I remember correctly, it was just sort of a whim, and it wasn’t really any different. In the garden, it got so big so quickly that I moved it to the meadow after the second year. Now, about 8 years later, there are probably two dozen or more self-sown, flowering-size clumps. These shots are from July 21.

At about 7 feet tall, the clumps are substantial and hard to miss, especially when in flower and seed. The inflorescence is very distinctive.

The female flowers are on the bottom half…

…and the males make up the top half.

The male half soon drops off, leaving just the developing seeds. They’ll be mature by fall.

Another native perennial that could have been growing here, but wasn’t until I added it, is compass plant (Silphium perfoliatum, July 21). It’s another one I first tried in the garden and then moved to the meadow. The voles devour the roots some years, but enough survive to make a suitable midsummer companion for the eastern gamagrass.

Rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium, July 13) introduced itself to the lower meadow and is now growing happily with a stand of New York ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis).

In the transition area between the lower meadow and The Shrubbery, I have two doublefile viburnums (Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum). One always blooms a week later than the other, but if they ever had labels, they are long gone, so I don’t know if they are named selections or seedlings. At this point, I don’t much care about their names I just appreciate their good looks and the fact that the deer have never bothered them.

The plants usually bloom in May but occasionally toss out scattered flowers in summer and even fall. The berries are spectacular. These shots are all from July 13.

I planted this poor bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora, July 21) at the same time—about 10 years ago—and it has never thrived, in large part because the deer nibble and/or rub on it most years. But the buds escaped their notice this year, so I finally got to see some flowers. Even more interesting was watching it be swarmed by swallowtail butterflies.

The swallowtails also love the compass plant, above, and the teasel [Dipsacus fullonum] below, both shown on July 21.

I think some of the dark swallowtails around here are spicebush swallowtails, but some of them must be black swallowtails, because their larvae seem to be everywhere. It looks like I won’t be harvesting any more dill or parsley for a while. Still, there are far worse pests to have, so I shouldn’t complain.

Anyway, to continue with the tour: The Shrubbery (which is increasingly looking more like The Mixed-Beddery) on the south side of the house…

…and the entrance to the courtyard on the north side of the house (all on July 13).

The courtyard has been pretty much unchanged for the last 8 or 9 years: mostly perennial grasses and a few woodies. But much of it had to be dug up during the trenching for the solar panel wires this spring, so I decided to stick with annuals for replanting over the buried lines. It’s nice having some cheery color in there, since the area is right outside one of my office windows.

The colors are even brighter out front (again on July 13):

Some of you may remember that I had a large silver willow (Salix alba var. sericea) in the side garden. Hurricane Sandy broke the top of one of the main stems last fall, and the boys enjoyed chewing off the bark of that piece so much that I ended up cutting down more and more for them. This is the result by April 10.

It practically exploded with new growth this spring and is now much bushier (the shot below is from June 25). The boys are enjoying snacking on the leaves now and will have a lot of good eating again this winter.

As usual, Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima) is the real star of this part of the garden (Above, June 25 below July 2).

You may remember how pleased I was with the alpaca-fleece path back in the spring (below, April 30).

Unfortunately, things got so hectic since then that I didn’t get around to weeding or cutting back any of the perennials, and now the whole area is a jungle (below, July 5). I’ll have to try harder to keep up next year.

The purple fences I used to spruce up the Happy Garden in previous years had finally rotted to pieces, so it was looking very boring here in the spring.

For lack of a better solution, I decided to use my collection of random rusty things here this year.

The low fence that Mom built to enclose the veg garden was a nice upgrade for that area this year.

It still needed some personality, though, so I decided to color it up with some painted bamboo poles, as well as an interesting gate-like thing that Mom and I spotted on the side of the road one day.

Now in their third year, the perennial meadow squares (below) are looking great. Apart from pulling out a few weeds along the edges early this spring, I haven’t had to do anything here. The planting is so dense that the summer weeds didn’t stand a chance.

Finally, some combinations and close-ups, in no particular order.

Above, golden meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria ‘Aurea’) with variegated pokeweed (Phytolacca americana ‘Silberstein’) and ‘Monte Negro’ lily (Lilium) on June 20.

Below, ‘Crème de Menthe’ dogwood (Cornus alba ‘Crimzam’) with ‘Provence’ lavender (Lavandula x intermedia) and ‘Hummelo’ betony (Stachys officinalis) on July 2.

Above, Gloriosa daisy (Rudbeckia hirta) with Veronica grandis on July 1.

Below, ‘Flamenco Samba’ cuphea (Cuphea llavea), an all-purple form of wandering Jew (Tradescantia zebrina), and ‘Santa Cruz Sunset’ tuberous begonia on July 8.

Above, Veronica grandis, ‘Golden Foam’ euphorbia, and ‘Erica’ Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum) foliage on June 20.

Below, ‘Lanai Candy Cane’ verbena with the pods of ‘Cramer’s Plum’ love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena) on July 2.

Above, ‘Silver and Gold’ yellow-twig dogwood (Cornus sericea) with yellow wild indigo (Baptisia sphaerocarpa) and black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida) foliage, Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima), and Invincibelle Spirit smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens ‘NCHA1’) on July 5.

Below, ‘Sweet Georgia Heart Red’ sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas) with ‘Angelina’ sedum (Sedum rupestre), ‘Zahara Scarlet’ zinnia, ‘Imagination’ verbena, star-of-Persia (Allium christophii) seedheads, and ‘Red Spider’ zinnia (Zinnia tenuifolia) on July 13.

Above, Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima) with ‘Dark Towers’ beardtongue (Penstemon) seedpods, Rozanne geranium (Geranium ‘Gerwat’), and southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum) on July 5.

Below, ‘Becky’ Shasta daisy (Leucanthemum) with garlic (Allium sativum) and cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) on July 5.

Above, ‘Bandana White’ lantana with ‘Lemon Slice’ million bells (Calibrachoa) and ‘Sundew Springs’ hybrid lysimachia on July 13.

Below, ‘Nona’s Garnet Spider’ daylily (Hemerocallis) with ‘Ondra’s Green Mix’ flowering tobacco (Nicotiana), ‘Golden Fleece’ mountain fleeceflower (Persicaria amplexicaulis), and ‘Bull’s Blood’ beet against ‘Red Majestic’ contorted hazel (Corylus avellana) on July 8.

Above, ‘The Blues’ little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) with Southern bush honeysuckle (Diervilla sessilifolia), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), and ‘Dewey Blue’ bitter panicgrass (Panicum amarum) on July 5.

And last, rose campion (Lychnis coronaria) with Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima), ‘Brookside’ hardy geranium (Geranium), and wild quinine (Parthenium integrifolium) on June 20.

Yay – now I’m all caught up with the garden happenings this summer. After the next Bloom Day, I promise to find something else to write about!

Paper wasps!

We were off on holiday weekend visits for three days but to look at things outside you would think we’ve been gone a week! It was hot, there were seedling casualties, but most stuff survived and the heat made a couple things explode into growth.

One thing that is growing is the paper wasp nest we found in the little dawn redwood. bald face paper wasp

The nest is only about four feet up, and I’m curious as to how these guys chose their nest site. Out of all the bushes and trees around the yard they pick this one. The one closest to the play area. Go figure. But it is interesting to watch them working on the nest, doing what paper wasps do. bald face paper wasp

This can easily turn out to be one of those “that was stupid” posts…. time will tell. Hopefully in the fall when this set of wasps die and they abandon the nest (they only use it one year) the next generation will pick a better spot. In the meantime I hope they help themselves to as many caterpillars, bugs and spiders as they want, they can be a great beneficial insect, and I hope they’ll keep my kindness in mind when I absentmindedly bump the nest while mowing back there…. that should be funny to watch.

Watch the video: Compass Plant: the Gaint of the Prairie