Outdoors

Nature teaches us to slow down, just like the Silphium

The Nature Call: And the 'compass plant' has no cares

The Silphium laciniatum is commonly known as the “compass plant.” (John Lawrence Hanson/correspondent)
The Silphium laciniatum is commonly known as the “compass plant.” (John Lawrence Hanson/correspondent)
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I don’t have a favorite wildflower. But if I did, it might be Silphium laciniatum.

Commonly called “compass plant,” the larger species of the genera symbolize the maturation of summer to me. And while I offer homage to this stately prairie forb my affections are unrequited.

Silphium don’t care.

The preacher’s introductory remarks to the congregation were a gleeful retelling of the rainfall amount that had fallen overnight. Such was the joy that I supposed we could have dedicated the service to the rain. That wouldn’t be so odd. The faithful have prayed for or against rain since time immemorial.

But Silphium don’t care.

Silphium have been through drought and deluge, “they neither toil nor spin.” It plays the long game and plays it slowly.

Our dry July rightly gave some fits about their yards and flower beds, gardens and crops. The latter being more consequential than the former. I didn’t care if my yard burned up, less mowing for one. Two, I knew our cool weather turf had just gone dormant.

You’ve seen Silphium in the ditches of our living roadways, hailing motorists with beauty. Better yet, Silphium was your guide when you strolled a real prairie. Did it live up to its name?

Our little July drought served as a reminder for our perilous situation in a time of rapid climate change. We have sensitive systems supporting our civilization. The speed, comfort and “bounty” of our lives are so fragile.

Nature has lessons for persistence even in difficult climatic times — if we are willing to listen. Silphium can stand as tall as corn, but that height might take a decade to reach. In contrast to the shallow roots of corn, Silphium devotes most of its energy to building a deep and thick taproot. Frankly, what’s below the ground might be more interesting than what’s above.

Silphium may be slow, yet it can weather extremes with grace. People panic by comparison.

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I am trying to do a better job of embracing slow. Sure, there’s a time to move fast, like when I’m training for a footrace or being chased by bees.

But those are episodic events. Nature seems to favor those that move slowly.

A cherished professor of mine was H. Michael Hartoonian. He said anything that’s worth doing is worth doing slowly. Those words were directed at my research paper, but they could have just as easily been about Silphium.

I wish I could ask the “compass plant” its opinion. Even if it could speak, I bet it would refuse to weigh in — because Silphium don’t care.

Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.

John Lawrence Hanson, Ed.D., of Marion teaches U.S. history with an emphasis on environmental issues at Linn-Mar High School and sits on the Linn County Conservation Board.

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