Silphium laciniatum

I just love Latin, don’t you? If only I could pronounce it.

I was excited to find out I got the privilege to write a post on flowers during Midwest week. After all, I’m a Midwesterner. Yep, straight out of Kansas. And would you believe it if I told you that I have a poster of Kansas Wildflowers, Native Grasses & Shrubs right in front of my desk? Well I do. It comes in handy when I need a quick visual reference while writing.

However, it wasn’t until I came across a diary filled with all kinds of useful information that I began to see the real value of some of these native Kansas wildflowers.

Check out this entry from Kansas: Its Interior and Exterior Life by Sara Robinson published in 1856.

18th. — The morning sun never shone more brightly than now. We found everything in the house damp, but had taken no cold. The cholera patient was doing well. The gentleman of the house assured me he slept well, but it was a mystery to me where he found a dry nook. Had a fine ride home in the early morning light, which gives to every object a double value. “Old Gray” nibbled at the “compass plant,” which always points northward in these prairies, occasionally cropping its bright yellow flowers with a satisfied air as he trotted along. The rattlesnake weed was also blooming in profusion. Nature is ever mindful of the needs of her children, and provides an antidote against the bane of rattlesnakes, and a sure guide over the wide prairie in the compass plant. When I reached home, found the doctor gone to attend upon a broken limb. A man, in rafting logs down the river, had met with this misfortune. The doctor has many calls professionally, and, though he assures them all that he is not now a practicing physician, he looks in upon many to advise them.

How cool is that? These diary entries are filled with all sorts of information that could be used in almost any research. I think they’re the best resource for writing historicals, and of course, they can lead to other resources as well.

Here are a few notes on the compass plant.

1. The picture came from Oklahoma Biological Survey.

2. I have found several occasions where pioneers often believed off the wall tales, or remedies. Like how tying a raw chicken to your abdomen would draw rattlesnake venom from the body after having been bittern. So when I saw the little tidbit about the compass plant always pointing north, I had to investigate further. And they were at least partly right. The leaves, not the flower, do point in a north-south direction. Most of the time.

3.  It is harmless to livestock.

4. Native Americans have used this plant for teas.

5. The sap was often used as chewing gum.

6. (I love this one and can’t wait to use it in a story) Native Americans wouldn’t camp near the compass plant. It was believe, as you can see here, that lightening was attracted to the compass plant.

Compass Plant Fact Sheet
Kansas Native Plants– excellent pictures
Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses-Compass Plant