Native Plant of the Year
Each year, the Kansas Native Plant Society chooses one of our native Kansas plants as the Native Plant of the Year.
In selecting a Native Plant of the Year KNPS seeks to increase the public’s awareness and in-depth knowledge of our native Kansas plants. The plant chosen fills the following criteria:
- It must be plant native to Kansas;
- It may be common or rare;
- It may be selected for horticultural interest; and/or
- It may be selected for its contribution to a functioning habitat.
The Native Plant of the Year is a featured category of the Annual KNPS Photo Contest – members submit photos which are displayed at the Annual Wildflower Weekend (AWW).
2023 - Purple Prairie Clover - Dalea purpurea
Found throughout Kansas, this erect perennial from the bean family (Fabaceae) grows with multiple simple or branched stems in height of one to three feet tall. Its preferred habitat is
medium to well-drained, full-sun, dry upland prairie. Extreme drought tolerance is thanks to a deep taproot.
The newer genus name (replacing Petalostemon) honors 17-18 th century English botanist, Samuel Dale. The dense thimble-like clusters of tiny flowers help purple prairie clover stand out with a splash of color amidst emerging prairie grasses in June and early July. The ¼” purple flower
has five petals and five yellow anthers.
Each less than 1/8” pod or seed capsule contains a single yellowish-green or brown seed. Delicate leaves are alternate branching and pinnately compound with 3-5 narrow, linear leaflets.
This non-aggressive, nitrogen-fixing legume is a popular choice for any prairie seed mix or sunny flowerbed. It is common to see various types of bees and other pollinators gathering nectar from the flowers of purple prairie clover.
The vegetation is larval food for southern dogface and Reakirt’s blue butterflies.
2022 - Rough blazingstar - Liatris punctata
Found throughout Kansas, this erect perennial from the sunflower (Asteraceae) family grows with multiple, stiff, unbranched stems up to 2.5 feet tall. Its preferred habitat is well-drained, dry upland prairie where it thrives best when in lower competition from tall grasses. Extreme drought tolerance is thanks to a perennial taproot that can reach a depth of 15 feet. One report from J.E. Weaver’s 1968 book, Prairie Plants and their Environment documented that a dotted blazing star root crown ring count showed it was 35 years old.
The purple inflorescences of dotted blazing star are among the most stunning wildflowers of late summer. Clusters of four to eight rose-purple flowers blooming in August and September consist of only disk florets, with ray florets absent. Pollinated flowers create black, ribbed ¼” conical-shaped achene fruits with a parachute-like pappus to aid in wind dispersal.
“Blazing star” is named for the spike of purple flowers and “dotted” is in reference to the small glands dotting the leaves and bracts of this species. “Punctate” is a botanical term for translucent dots.
Nectar from these flowers attracts many species of butterflies, bees, and flies. The blooming of dotted blazing star is notably timed with the annual southern migration of the nectar-seeking monarch butterfly. The leaves and stems of dotted blazing star are palatable to cattle and this species becomes greatly reduced on prairies that are heavily grazed.
The showy flowers of dotted blazing star make this species an easy choice for planting in any full-sun flower bed. The purple splashes of color pair nicely with the yellows of goldenrod in late summer. Liatris punctata also has the appealing landscaping traits of a short stature to fit in smaller gardens, non-aggressive seed reproduction, a different flowering time compared to other popular garden Liatris species including L. aspera and L. pycnostachya, and an attractive fluffy, wand-like stem texture in fall before seeds begin to disperse.
These line drawings are from Dwight Platt and Lorna Harder’s 1997 publication Growing Native Wildflowers.
To see more Liatris punctata photos by Michael Haddock and a detailed species description, visit www.kswildflower.org.
2021 - Compass Plant - Silphium lacinatium
Compass plant is found in roughly the eastern 2/3 of Kansas. It is an erect perennial has stiff, hairy, and sometimes glandular up to two-foot long leaves. The two to five-inch inflorescences are scattered along a flowering stem that can be up to nine-foot tall. Both central disc and outer seed-producing ray flowers help cue that this species is in the Sunflower (Asteraceae) family. Compass plant thrives in both lowland prairies with clay loam to silt loam soils as well as dry, hillside prairie habitat with rocky calcareous soils.
Broken stems exude a gummy resin that can be chewed like gum, and the genus name Silphium comes from the Greek word “silphion”, referring to a North African plant bearing resin. The word “laciniate” means to cut or slash into narrow, irregular lobes which describes the compass plant leaves. The common name refers to the plants tendency to align basal leaves generally north and south, which helps the plant save water by deflecting most of the hot, mid-day summer sunlight.
Once developed over 4-5 years, 15-foot deep compass plant roots make this species extremely drought-tolerant and long-lived. It is an aesthetically-pleasing option for the urban landscape thanks to bright yellow flowers in July to August and stately leaves holding their shape through the winter. If you don’t weed-out new seedlings, however, the tall-statured compass plant can take over a garden.
Compass plant flowers are pollinated primarily by long-tongued bees, but the flowers also attract many other bees and flies and occasionally butterflies. A host of insects eat the plant’s vegetation including a prairie cicada (roots), Silphium beetle (stems and flower heads), gall wasps (stems), and an aphid (sucking juice from the stem). Birds and small mammals eat the large ½-inch seeds. Cattle eat young compass plant leaves and will eradicate this species over time on regularly-grazed pastures.
Seeds show improved germination success with at least two to three months of cold, wet stratification.
To see more Silphium laciniatum photos by Michael Haddock and a detailed species description, visit www.kswildflower.org.