While my lawn is a dormant brown from the lack of rain, the native prairie plants are green and growing. We are not officially in a draught, but walking in the July Midwest prairie shows very thirsty plants. Normally the grasses would be approaching my 5′ 4″ height. This Compass Plant (Silphium laciniatum) would be visible for its bright sunny flower, while the leaves it’s named for would be completely hidden from view. A Compass Plant with its prairie survival skills can last for up to one hundred years.
Nature’s survival skills constantly amaze me. Visiting a prairie during a draught one will find shorter plants but they will be prolific in bloom. The show of flowers seems contrary behavior for a time of stress, but it is nature’s way of ensuring the survival of species. The first, most critical survival skill unique to prairie species is their deep reaching roots. Roots are often deeper than the above the ground height of plants. During a times of little rain when other plants go dormant or die, plants native to the prairie are still able to use the summer sun for photosynthesis since their roots are still able to reach water sources. Somehow the plants respond to the stress of draught by using this self-created energy to produce many flowers, yielding many more seeds than normal years. This seed productivity will ensure survival of the species if the draught continues and the plants’ water sources dry up killing the plants. Prairie plant seeds can then lie dormant for decades waiting quietly for conditions that once again allow them to germinate, grow, and thrive in the sun-filled prairie.
For more information on the Compass Plant see my blog post on 11/6/2011, “One Last Bloom”.