central Gulf South Silphiums

Rosin Weeds are not weeds at all. They are really fine ornamental herbs that provide for substantial wildlife activity and add lots of pizzaz to a garden. Silphiums are some of the more shining, luminous jewels you can incorporated into your prairie-meadow if you’ve got one. Several Silphium species are native to our region and all are easily grown, adaptable, dependable, and extremely persistent garden plants. That is, if you can find them in the nursery trade available for purchase or …if can get some seed. Most all of mine were originally grown from seed.

Silphiums are no minor player when it comes to garden boldness. My friend Gail calls them “tall boys”, and puts them in the same category as Joe Pye Weed, Iron Weed and Big Bluestem. All are adaptable, long to establish but long-lived, and permanent plants that almost never need care.

They’re exquisitely beautiful organisms. Excellent garden plants, no doubt. They have a huge capacity in the landscape for specialized ecological function. They feed good-weird bugs and stuff (they’re highly attractive to butterflies and other very specialized pollinators, y’all).

I’ve heard some of my northern gardener-friends say that they are weedy, but I have not had that kind of luck yet. In the fifteen years or more I’ve grown Silphiums, I have never had enough show up via re-seeding and they have rarely become prolific in a planting, only somewhat, maybe. But they seem to be more than prolific above the Mason-Dixon line. Dumb luck, I guess.

Rosinweeds are for royalty. They are for refined gardens and wildscapes, too! They are horticultural clout. Vertical botanical bling! Some of Europe’s most visited gardens have American Silphiums in them. The Brits Dunnett and Hitchmough use them in their famous wildflower work. And where we live they are tame, yet seductive.

Most Silphiums grow as large-leaved herbaceous plants, big leafy rosettes with tall terminal stalks laden up-top with big butter-yellow ‘ray and disk’ flowers. In the best conditions, during the best year for rain, the tallest ones, the Compass Plant and Prairie Dock, both can grow flower stalks to eight or ten feet tall.

Who wants an eight foot tall herb in their garden? Me, that’s who!!!!


above: a single flower of Will Fleming’s awesome “curly leafed” Rosin Weed, almost five inches across. not too shabby.


Actually, Rosinweeds are just foliage clumps in the landscape for months in the spring and early summer until the plant prepares to bloom, sending stalks skyward. The photo above,(click it to enlarge it) taken by Jovonn Hill, of the Pulliam prairie landscape in Chickasaw County, Mississippi, with Prairie Dock, Silphium terebinthinaceum, just emerging in April, after a controlled burn. Cool thing is you can see right through the stalks of Silphiums when they bloom, like, the stalks almost become invisible.

Here are the Silphiums I have grown for some years now, in my gardens.


above: Silphium laciniata, the Compass Plant, emerging after burn in spring in the Covington garden. 🙂


Compass Plant in flower and fruit, Eunice, Louisiana


Gail and UWA student Colton stand amongst hundreds of ancient Compass Plants at the oh-so-amazing Epes, Alabama chalk glade.


above: seedling of Compass Plant from hand-harvest seed from Epes, growing at the Black Belt Prairie Garden, University of Western Alabama, Livingston, Alabama, May, 2014.

link to cool photos of Compass plant



S. gracile or Slender Rosin Weed’s distribution range, above, a plant found both in Pine forests and Prairies in Louisiana. Lush rosettes, entire leaves, high-oil seed makes for an excellent wildlife plant. Gracile is a real southerner with a red-neck attitude, often kind of slouchy and grinning. No, really, its a very plant with a good attitude. Niche Gardens, a specialty native plant nursery in Chapel Hill, N.C offers this species for sale.

S. simpsonii, Simpson’s or Tall Rosin Weed is a non-Louisiana Native given to me by Texan nurseryman Peter Loos in the mid 1990’s. Good-naturalizing, adaptable, seed excellent for wildlife. Looks very similar to gracile.


early growth of Silphium simpsoni, above

S. integrifolium, Prairie Rosin Weed, is found associated with inland prairies of Louisiana and the Jackson Belt prairies of Mississippi. Its a Rosin Weed with conspicuous leaf arrangement. A vertically attractive course-textured plant.


above: the burly-tough rigid stem and leaves of Silphium integrifolium


above, Silphium integrifolia in full-glory, Harrell Prairie Botanical Area, Bienville National Forest, Scott County, Mississippi


S. terebinthinaceum, Prairie Rosin Weed (above), is not found naturally occurring in Louisiana and is only found in one county in Mississippi and one in Alabama. Its at the southern end of its range here in the GS. The largest leafed Silphium, by far. Awesome. Tony Avant of Plant Delights nursery in Chapel Hill grows and offers it for sale. Mine hasn’t bloomed yet and it is at least five years old but the leaves are very large and showy without flowers. It may have a lot to do with the seed coming from clay-specific soils to acid soils here in Covington, duh.


above: S. perfoliatum, The Cup Plant, is an uncommon plant in Louisiana, with records in only one Parish. More commonly found in much of the eastern U.S (minus Texas), this guy has the distinction of forming “cups”, where water collects where the ‘perforated’ leaves join the stem. Bold and strongly structural architecture.

S. asteriscus, Starry Rosin Weed, is one I have only grown for four or five years now. It seems to be very floriferous and a bit shorter than most other species.

Silphium (origin, Will Fleming) is a curly margined form of a yet-unidentified (um, I forget) species with a distinctive leaf form. I’ve grown this plant for five or so years. A worthy ornamental.

Propagation of these species is fairly easy if you have some good, viable seed. Just sow the seed in a good soil mix and barely cover the seed, enough to keep it moist. Germination will come pretty quickly unless its the dead of winter. Field grown Silphium seed is a horse of a different color. Seed I sowed of laciniata, in 1998 and 99 didn’t show up for several years, being out-competed and beat-up by unwanted competition. So eliminate competition in the field before sowing and maybe save yourself some years of waiting and wondering.



actual flowers of Silphium


after flowering, seed setting


The oily seed of Silphium is covered by a wafer-like coating


Get down, get tall, get Silphium, and get with it, folks!!!!


the link below is the short version of the Flora of Pulliam Prairie paper.

Click to access Campbell___Seymour_2011b.pdf



after a dozen years, interseeding at the Farm!

The prairie gardens at Meadowmakers’ farm were planted twelve to fourteen years ago: in the early winter of 1999, 2000, and 2001. Very little has been done in these areas except to burn them about every third year since that time.


above: a general design of the planted areas at Meadomakers’ Farm

When I planted the gardens, I was focused on the attempt to create blocks of individual species and combinations of a few species or more. At the time, the only means to collect seed was by hand-collection, just stripping seed from the plant. I had no interest in including grasses because I didn’t realize at the time how necessary they were to incorporating fire into the management program. What I’ve learned since is that you have to have grasses to get good burns. The controlled burns are the tool that levels the playing field, reducing intense competition and increasing chances that the planting with succeed. Fire brings forth beauty and ecological function.

This idea was proven in the last planting of this three year span of planting. The last one I did was in November 2001. I remember it clearly because it was right after the World Trade Center bombings in New York when I was tilling soil. The seed I was collected with a brand new hand-held motorized seed collector from Prairie Habitats, Manitoba Canada  (eh?). The collection site was Frey Prairie remnant, just south of Eunice. I collected for about three or so hours and got about two or three pounds of seed at most. The seed went out into the newly tilled ground and for many years I thought this spot had failed to produce anything of substance.

Not until five or so years later did I start to see the real result of my work. It became clear over time that this patch of ground turned out to be something particularly significant. Today its pretty obvious when you contrast this planting to any of the other plantings, you’ll see a clear difference in the number of woody plants present. There are very few woody plants here as compared to most of the other non-grass plantings. Grasses, through their connection with fire, obviously weed-out the Chinese Privet, Wax Myrtle and Callery Pear through the benefit of intense heat.

This year is the first year I am working on woody plant control at the farm. And its the first year that I will introduce seed to the original plantings since they were first intalled. I haven’t done anything before this year simply because the rule of law was to keep my paws out of the picture. Charles Allen had told me early on to “do nothing and be patient”, so I did and I was. N

From the beginning, I had decided two things regarding maintenance. 1. that no woody plant eradication would be done and 2. No additional seeding was to be added to the fields until time had passed sufficiently to determine an outcome. Decisions could then be made according to what had occurred. I never determined when I would start with these efforts, but fire would be used as often as possible, once per year was my hope.

So this year has become the year of woody eradication at the Farm (or at least trials of different approaches to woody eradication). And its the year of interseeding: the act of introducing new seed to an already established planting. I have seeded different seed using different seeding approaches as well. This should change the way the fields look in the future and it will change how they respond when it comes to controlled burns.

In November, I started with an acre planting that had been fairly well encroached-upon by privet. Here, I used a chain saw to cut the privet at the soil line and then mowed the entire area thoroughly. No herbicide was applied. I then seeded into it, a diverse mix of grasses and wildflowers. Existing here already is mix of Silphium gracile, Baptisias, Marshallia trinerva, Gailardia aestivalus var Winklerii and dominated mostly by Monarda fistulosa and Monarda lindhiemeri, and dominant with large pink drifts of Bee Balm, Monarda.

In early March I was able, with the help of a friend, to do a burn in a patch of about two and a half acres. This one had been planted back in November 2000. The area is one of the most the most garden-like of all the plantings with really robust stands (individual planting blocks) of Eryngium, Penstemon, Baptisia alba, Helianthus mollis, Monarda, Coreopsis pubescens, Sium suave, Pycnanthemum tenuifolia, Marshallia trinerva, Phlox pilosa and the awesome spearmint scented Mountian Mint, Pycnanthemum albescens var. ‘Malcolm Vidrine’. After the fire, I then seeded with a wonderful mix of Little Bluestem and Virginia Bluestem grass.

Tuesday this week we burned another four acre patch of ground that holds 22 experiments. Most of these were single-species plantings but a few were diverse seed mixes and fewer still were two or three-species-plantings. This area was the most daunting of all with lots of Privet and Wax Myrtle. We timed this burn so that the most substantial injury to the woody plants was inflicted. We wanted them to hurt! They’re most vulnerable to fire just after leaf flush and in the case of the Privet, just after flowers are produced. We got a pretty nice fire to go through and much of the woody stuff was obviously effected. I will probably follow-up with a chainsaw and lay down the woody plants that weren’t effected by flame. After the fire, I immediately started seeding with a very diverse mix, dominant in Little Blue and Indian grass. Hopefully this will be beneficial to the cause.


before fire       click to enlarge photos


after fire


Terry “Burn-man” Johnson walks out of the smoke during the fire…


Silphium, Rosenweed, before the fire…


and after….


Rudbeckia grandiflora in the foreground and coreopsis in bloom above…  before…


…and after the fire.

Yesterday I burned another area (about 1200 square feet) that I had sprayed a few times with herbicide last summer. This patch of ground joins another area (about 1000 square feet) that had become fully engulfed in old Privet. Ten-year-old Privet stacked one on top of the other here, completely covered the area. Last January, my friend Jim McGee and I cut the Privet from the site and burned it. I recently sprayed the area with herbicide. Yesterday was a big day for me because it was seeding day for what I consider to be the most promising blend of grasses designed to be a low-mow lawn for the Central Gulf Coastal states. These two areas were covered in seed and hopefully we’ll see some results soon.


preparing the Low-Mow lawn seeding area

Along with Farm’s wildflower bling, the management comparisons we’ve executed this year should be beneficial to the group that shows up for our annual Field Day on May 17th. That’s the day! Be there or be square, man.

Botanist Heather Sullivan is expected make the scene and we will all certainly benefit from her unique botanical perspective and her ever-pleasant disposition.

Ya’ll should come! We welcome you!

my way-cool prairie garden as it changes through the year 2013……












above: A Mississippi Kite, Ictinia mississippiensis, flew right over my head yesterday at the Farm, I caught it on camera as it went past, sweeping the fields for dinner.

good day!!!