Prairie Dock: Up Close and Personal

Prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum), a member of the Sunflower family, is one of my favorite prairie plants.  We saw several at a recent, ECCo-led, volunteer stewardship workday at Beaubien Woods in the Calumet Region. The plant has huge (1-2 ft) leaves covered in rough hairs, as seen in this photo. The best part about prairie dock is its insanely deep root system which can reach depths of 14 ft or more below ground. This deep root system can penetrate the water table, allowing prairie dock to withstand long periods of drought. 

If you press a leaf together in your hands the leaves will feel cool, even on a July summer day, as the plant transports water from deep below the Earth. Later in the summer prairie dock will send up a 8-10 ft tall stalk covered with yellow sunflower-like flowers. Prairie dock also makes a striking, low-maintenance, addition to any home garden. 

Photos: Leslee Jackson, Calumet Volunteer