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December 6, 2018

Sunflower Substitutes with Staying Power

By: Jeremy Kranowitz

Pollinator Count Week has been a blast! But the work of building pollinator greenspaces can continue throughout the year. Here are a few perennial alternatives that will create happy homes for pollinators every year. Looking for a great towering sunflower that comes back every year?  Tons of folks love the look of a cheerful sunflowers (Helianthus annus) which is an annual that needs to be replanted each season.  If you like the tall golden appearance of sunflowers but want something with a little more staying power, try these prairie giants! 

Prairie Dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum) –  Prairie Dock is among the taller and larger-leaved prairie plants, often maturing to 9′ in height. Its sandpaper-textured leaves, 18″ long and 12″ wide, prove too coarse for most rabbits.  These leaves will mature in size in early summer and by late summer the flowering stalk will shoot up with attractive yellow composite flowers.  Because of its height, it competes well with aggressive prairie grasses such as Big Bluestem and Indian Grass.  Prairie Dock attracts bees, including honeybees and bumblebees.  Goldfinches eat and disperse the seeds, helping the plant self-propagate.  A member of the large Aster (Asteraceae) family, Prairie Dock, like mostSilphium species, is extremely drought-resistant and long-lived; once it is established it can be difficult to move so choose your spot wisely in a garden setting.  It tends to bloom later than other Silphium (see “companion plants” above).  It may also be called Prairie Rosinweed. (Description from )   

Compass Plant (Silphium laciniatum– The name Compass Plant comes from the observation that the leaves have a tendency to orient themselves on a north-south axis.  While this certainly helped disoriented settlers find their way, the real reason behind this intriguing physiology is to maximize water use in the leaves as well as to increase CO2 gain for the plant. Another interesting aspect of Compass Plant biology is their life expectancy.  Given the right conditions, individual plants have been known to live upwards of 100 years! Gardening with Compass Plant is gardening for the future. (Description from ) Join KIB’s Pollinator Count Week at! Use the hashtag #KIBees to take your pollinator pictures on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Categories: Habitat Restoration