Share The Wealth

Martha Medford

Upper Golden Grove, Canada

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Featured in Bug Hunt

Bees on a compass plant. New Brunswick, Canada. Nikon Coolpix P100

Silphium laciniatum – Silphium laciniatum is a species of flowering plant in the aster family, known commonly as compass plant. It is native to North America. Other common names include prairie compass plant, pilotweed, polarplant, gum weed, cut-leaf silphium, and turpentine plant.

This plant is a taprooted perennial herb producing rough-haired stems usually one to three meters tall. (Tall enough to lay over my car!) The leaves are variable in shape and size, being 4 to 60 centimeters long and one to 30 centimeters wide. They are hairy, smooth-edged or toothed, and borne on petioles or not. The back of the flower head has layers of rough, glandular phyllaries. The head contains 27 to 38 yellow ray florets and many yellow disc florets. The fruit is a cypsela which can be almost 2 centimeters long and is tipped with a pappus of two short awns.

The common name compass plant was inspired by the “compass orientation” of its leaves. The large leaves are held vertically with the tips pointing north or south and the upper and lower surfaces of the blades facing east or west. A newly emerging leaf grows in a random direction, but within two or three weeks it twists on its petiole clockwise or counterclockwise into a vertical position. Studies indicate that the sun’s position in the early morning hours influences the twisting orientation. This orientation reduces the amount of solar radiation hitting the leaf surface. Vertical leaves facing east-west have higher water use efficiency than horizontal or north-south-facing blades

Artwork Comments

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