Compass Plant – Pointing the Way!

Compass Plant

Compass Plant and Flower (1)

Long before the days of magnetic compasses or global positioning systems which track our every movement and tell us where we are at any given time, there were and are, plants which aided the native Indians and later the pioneers traveling by covered wagon across the United States of America.  Of course, when the sun was shining, anyone can tell his directions, but after many days of cloudy or stormy weather what could the wagon master do?

Behold!  The humble compass plant, a rugged, drought-resistant native plant found in most tall-grass prairies which once dominated the wide Midwest.  However, given its high palatability to livestock, it is seldom found in pastures utilising continuous grazing practices, but thrives on road banks and in managed grazing systems.  Whilst other plants maybe referred to as ‘compass plants,’ the one most generally thought of is Silphium laciniatum, found on prairies from Ohio to South Dakota, south to Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas.

The compass plant, a perennial which can live up to 100 years, has a central stem which is thick, light to medium green covered with conspicuous white hairs.  Large basal leaves cut almost to midrib have sandpaper-like texture with its alternate stem leaves having their edges vertical and nearly always pointing north and south.  The six to twelve foot (two-four metres) mature plant, also called rosinweed or pilot plant, is topped by yellow flowers, which bloom mid-summer for about 1½ months.  When blooming, the stalk is very resinous and, reportedly, Indian children gathered droplets of rosin from the upper parts of the stem, where the gum exudes, to use as chewing gum for ‘sweetening the breath’ and cleansing the teeth and mouth.’

The flower heads, which are three to four inches across, resemble those of a wild sunflower.  However, unlike the sunflower, its seeds, which though large, are flat and light and can be carried several feet by the wind.  In addition, like other Silphium spp., the small tubular disk florets are sterile, while the ray florets are fertile.  Its drought resistance secret reveals itself if you try uprooting it for transplant; the taproot may reach to a depth of sixteen feet (five metres)!

Native people prized the root of the compass plant for its medicinal qualities.  The Pawnees made a tea they used for ‘general debility’, while the Santee Dakotas, Poncas and the Omahas prepared a similar concoction to use as a horse tonic.  Some Indian tribes burned the dried roots to ward off lightning during storms and some believed that lightning occurred more frequently where compass plant grew and did not camp in those areas.  In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, doctors also used the compass plant as the following: Antipyretic, diuretic, emetic, expectorant, tonic, styptic, antispasmodic, and stimulant.

Information for this article primarily drawn from the following resources:

Compass Plant goodrop

Compass plant is an interesting flowering plant with many uses, not to mention that it is beautiful and palatable to livestock and wildlife.  The indigenous people of the United States chewed the sap as gum. It’s notable that the location of the plant can indicate an underground water source; probably because the roots can grow as deep as 16 feet which could quite possibly increase the number of lightning strikes in the vicinity as believed by Native American Indians.  Makes sense to me!

The best simple physical description is provided by the Missouri Department of Conservation:

Other Common Name
Rosinweed
Family

Asteraceae (daisies, sunflowers)

Description

Compass plant is a tall, showy, yellow rosinweed with hairy stems. Blooms July through September. Flower heads are few to many, arising from a tall stalk. The flower heads are about 2½ inches across, and both the petal-like ray flowers and the central disk flowers are yellow. Leaves are hairy and deeply cleft almost to the midrib, the lobes sometimes having secondary divisions. At the bottom of the plant, the leaves are huge — to 16 inches long — but the leaves are progressively smaller toward the top of the stem. In full sun, the upright lower leaves turn their edges toward north and south, with the flat surfaces facing east and west, giving compass plant its common name.

Similar species: There are 6 Silphium species recorded for Missouri. Aside from compass plant, the other most common ones are starry rosinweed, rosinweed, prairie dock, and cup plant. Compass plant is identified by its deeply cleft leaves.

Size

Height: to about 8 feet.

More Compass Plant (Rosinweed) Facts from the USDA.

Compass Plant and Flower (4)
Flora wildlife providing nectar to fauna wildlife.
Compass Plant 1
Often grows to 8 feet tall!

 

Compass Flower 2

Compass Flower 5
Closeup shows the masterful plan of YHWH, our Creator.  No accident in design.  One of many examples of what Fibonacci described as ‘the Golden Spiral.”

 

Fibonacci Numbers

The flower of the compass plant is another fine example of God’s orderly world.  He created such order from the chaos of void as magnificently viewed in the Golden spiral of our universe, the Milky Way.  This pattern is found throughout the earth in the curve of a bird’s beak, the shape of some seashells, the breaking of an ocean wave, even bacteria grow at an accelerating rate that can be plotted along a logarithmic spiral and so much more.  While man has repeatedly copied this pattern in his architecture and painting, the mathematical symmetry of the Fibonacci pattern has a prior claim, and that is of our Creator and Lord.

First recorded discovery was in 500 BC by Pingala, an Indian mathematician, whose Sanskrit book on meters outlined what he called Chhandah-shastra.  In addition to the basics of Fibonacci numbers, his work also contains the basis for binary numeral system and Pascal’s triangle and later, popularized in the west by Leonardo de Pasino Fibonacci about 1200 AD.  Applications of Fibonacci numbers and sequencing are in the Euclid’s algorithm, Diophantine equation, and in binomial coefficients, as well as recognizable in music and art, and represented in many places in nature.1

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fibonacci_number

 

Killdeer Mama!

This time of year, the killdeer are laying eggs and setting on them.  Officially a shorebird (plover), but often found in short pastures and especially along gravel drives on dry ground.  The wary mommas will lead predators away from the nest by running, then acting as if she is injured.

 

 

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Killdeer are masters of camouflage, but thankfully i found this nest or we would have run over it with the pickups and trailers whilst unloading and loading herd bulls last week.
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Killdeer mama guarding her nest seen just above her to the right.

 

Killdeer nest camouflaged
Killdeer nest well camouflaged.

Kildeer (2)

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Mama with one of four babies.

 

Hornworms in my Garden!

Hornworms earn their common name by the hornlike structure at the tail end of the caterpillar.   The tomato hornworm is actually the larva of the Five spotted hawk moth (Manduca quinquemaculata), whereas, the tobacco hornworm develops into a tobacco hawk moth or Carolina sphinx moth (Manduca sexta).

Tomato Hornworm (2)

Typically, the tomato hornworm is found in the northern part of the United States, while the tobacco hornworm is found in the southern.  Not sure how north Missouri is defined, but all i’ve ever seen on my tomato plants are tobacco hornworms.  Hornworms are not defined by what they are eating, however, since they tend to defoliate potato plants, eggplants, moonflowers, peppers, as well as tomato and tobacco.

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Destructive little buggers!

Eggs deposited on the plant hatch into larvae in about a week in late spring, grow to maturity at about 10 cm (3-4 inches), then drop to the ground to pupate into moths.  They overwinter near the host plant – ready to infest the next year’s crop.

Control of the hornworms is essential if you want any crop production.  On smaller garden plots like mine (only 25 tomato plants), i pluck them off by hand and feed them to the laying hens.

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Parasitic wasps are a natural control.  I didn’t introduce this wasp, but it found this worm in which to deposit its eggs.   After hatching, the wasp larvae will feed on the internal organs of the hornworm.  On the back and sides of this hornworm are visible the cocoons of the wasp larvae.
Hornworm - Sphinx
Another species of hornworm without the horn!  This one is found on a wild grape vine, Virginia Creeper, and such.  It is an Achemon Sphinx. 
Hornworm - fuzzy
I added this photo for fun, though it is not a hornworm, but the larva of a Luna Moth!

On Safari in Missouri!!!

tauna

On Safari in Masai Mara National Reserve

Though the main reason for Dallas and my visit to Kenya was to learn about the new Savory Hub at Enonkishu Conservancy, we also had the opportunity to go on several game drives.  Now, don’t confuse a western thought of game drive being like a cattle drive.  Our purpose was not to move stock or wildlife, but to discover them and enjoy them in their natural habitats.  So, you might say, ‘well, i’ve seen hippos, giraffes, elephants, cheetahs, lions, and such in a zoo.’  Sure, many of us have, but it surprised me at the excitement and joy of seeing wild animals in their natural homes just doing what they do.  Living, killing, eating, raising young…. No one feeding or watering them and piles of poop and drainage on a concrete pen.  Our guides, Moses and Boston, are expert at knowing where to find the animals by observing the tracks, habitat, and behaviors of other animals.  As a matter of interest, guides are required to complete many hours of training and testing, including how to drive safari vehicles in some rugged country.

Our stay in mid July was simply stunning with temps in the mid to upper 60s during the days and mid to upper 50s at night.  On  the Masai Mara National Reserve we were so thrilled to see the start of the wildebeest (which includes zebras, antelope, and other wildlife) migration from the Serengeti.  Clear skies provided excellent stargazing opportunities, including the Southern Cross!

All this put together by Denizen Earth and Trey Shelton.

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Yeah, i had a fabulous time!

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Enonkishu Conservancy

Enonkishu Conservancy,  (Maa for ‘place of healthy cattle’) located in southwestern Kenya, is one of the newest Savory Hubs.  Designed to demonstrate the attributes of managed grazing in a challenging environment and to encourage local community involvement.  The young couple who have pulled this endeavor together to qualify as a Savory Hub and move forward with implementation have indeed set a challenging yet heartfelt mission before them.

Their stated mission:

“REGENERATIVE GRAZING

Enonkishu Conservancy is committed to sustainable rangeland management that allows space and resources for all people, cattle, and wildlife. To achieve this it seeks a balance between conservation of the ecosystem and appropriate enterprise for the resident Maasai communities. Enonkishu is adopting a unique approach to conserving land by creating a viable livestock enterprise through a Holistic Management (HM) Approach. Through HM, Enonkishu intends to improve productivity of the livestock in the region, improve livelihoods and maintain heritage.”

The desire to improve the land, livestock, and wildlife is admirable, but no more so than the commitment to lift up the lives of the local people by finding ways for more children to seek formal education and to put more dollars in the pockets of families.

‘Regenerative’ is the new buzzword and thinking to replace ‘sustainable.’  I think it’s a good change.  Why sustain something that is in decline or degraded?  Regeneration of poor soils is tantamount to improved lives.  From the dust of the earth was man created -Genesis 2:7.

However, offering and encouraging education in holistic management or any other ideology must be introduced with gentleness and respect into a culture and society which may push back with decades of ingrained practices and customs.  Even in our rural county in Missouri, USA with one of the premier managed-grazing schools at our fingertips, there is little adoption of the regenerative practices.  To form a cooperative of producers willing to allow their comingled cow herds to be managed as one mob by someone else on comingled land would not even be considered.  Yet this is the simplified explanation of one component of what is happening with Enonkishu Conservancy and the Mara Training Centre.  With any new organisation, family or business, there are growing and learning pains.  Rookie mistakes, which should be avoided by heeding advice from those who have already made them, creep into any undertaking.  One of the key elements of Allan Savory’s management courses is defining goals and testing objectives.  Good, basic advice for anyone at any point in their lives.

Admittedly, i’m glad i don’t have to manage the massive number of mega wildlife that Lippa and Tarquin do – no worries about lions, leopards, elephants, zebras here in north Missouri.  Wow!

Dallas and I recently (July 23, 2018) returned from a 9 day stay on Naretoi Estate at the House in the Wild accommodation.  We traveled with Trey Shelton, who owns Denizen Global as our TD and along with four other like minded travelers (now good friends) and offered through Savory Institute Journeys.

We learnt so much on this wonderful expedition – not only did we meet great travel mates, hosts, servers, and leaders, but we enjoyed safari and game drives, superb meals prepared by Chef Purity and graciously served by Godfrey, guides who surely have no equal, and opportunities to enjoy local life.  More on all that in future entries.

Journey on!!!

tauna

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Our ‘estate’ at House in the Wild

 

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My bedroom with full ensuite behind the bed.

Across our expansive lawn, Dallas relaxes on one of the swinging beds overlooking the Mara River, which was often visited by trumpeting hippos!

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Mara Training Centre

 

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Currently, the Enonkishu Conservancy consists of about 6000 acres and 11 cooperator cattle herds.  Nearly three years into the managed grazing component, they shift cattle through 13 blocks.  Unlike Missouri and other places, the cattle are maintained in mobs by trained herdsmen rather than electric hi-tensile wire fencing.  Of course, the elephants, hippos, zebras, and giraffes would be pretty hard on fences!  Labor is very inexpensive, although the Conservancy makes a point of paying excellent wages.  
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Plans are underway to soon double the number of blocks, or paddocks as i call them.  My experience in north Missouri is that 24-28 paddocks is a sweet spot to balance labor and pasture improvement as well as cattle health and growth.

Two hours on that sort of gravel road was the last of our five hour drive from Nairobi to House In the Wild.  I’ll not complain about gravel roads in Jackson Township, Linn County, Missouri, USA again!

Beautiful cooperator cattle on Enonkishu Conservancy.

 

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Another value added enterprise is the Mara Beef.  Born, grown, and butchered right on the farm at a state of the art abattoir, Mara Beef will be offered at House In the Wild and the many lodges located  in and around the Masai Mara National Reserve.  Chef Purity at House in the Wild prepared Mara Beef for us one supper – superior flavor and tenderness. 

 

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Another enterprise or ‘holon’ of the Conservancy is the Mara Training Centre at which young people and adults from around the world come to learn about managed grazing.  Camping and dorms are available for long term stays.

Even though the soil is much better covered on the Enonkishu Conservancy, despite the massive amounts of wildlife (which continues to increase because of better forage), there is much work to be done.  My observations are that the cows are the forward grazers and receive the more mature grasses.  This, of course, challenges them to maintain body condition.  I don’t know what the conception rates are.  I asked about how the wildlife are managed and the comments was that oddly, the wildlife seems to follow the cattle.  This is no mystery as to why they do this!  The wildlife are getting that coveted second bite, the one that shouldn’t be taken until the grass has had adequate rest.  This is one point that many graziers differ with Allan Savory’s grazing management.  He says that the amount of time grazing is the most important, whereas many of us believe the amount of time rested is most important.  The key is to move the stock before the blades can be grazed too short- often this is one bite, then move on.  However, time grazing and time resting will vary with seasons and weather conditions.  For example, in my operation in a typical fast growing cool season forages spring, the cows will be in a paddock no more than three days, then that paddock should rest at least 30 days.  However, if the rains don’t come, this rest period could easily extend to 60 or 90 days.  This would require longer stays in paddocks and possible herd reduction.

Anyway, my point is that the wildlife on Enonkishu are fat grazing the creme of the grass crop and quite likely slowing down the regenerative process.  However, tourism is a huge part of the income and goals, so this must be taken into consideration and balance.

The boma is a mainstay amongst cattlemen and shepherds in conservancies of southwestern Kenya.  Stock must be corralled each night for protection from serious predators like lions, hyenas, leopards, cheetahs, and other wildlife which like beef as much as we do.  Bomas are designed to be easily set up and taken down and the overnight dunging by mobbed stock can improve soil structure and productivity very quickly IF the area is allowed to rest for along time after use.

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Here is a boma (corral) which can hold 200 cows in each large round pen, while the smaller center pen will hold all their baby calves.  Each evening calves are sorted and separated from their mommas for safety.  If the cows are spooked, they can easily crush babies if they are penned together.  See in the forefront where the soil has been disturbed in a circular fashion.  This indicates the area where the boma was the night before.  Dallas and i helped pack a couple panels to the next location to set up for the upcoming night.  The panels are about 7 or 8 feet long, but not really too heavy, yet there is extra wire on them to make them lion proof.   The herdsman’s hut was nearby, but i forgot to take a photo of it.  It is not lion proof, the the night herdsman is also guard.
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This photo clearly shows the great improvement in soil production where the bomas were located.  These areas are indicated by the circular areas of thick green grass cover.

The Enonkishu Conservancy as a new Savory Hub is doing a smart, yet difficult thing.  Mistakes in management have been made and I hope that leaders will continue learning and talking to people who are not only ‘experts’ but also producers, those of us who put these ideas to practice.  We’ve already made the mistakes and most are glad to share our failures and successes.

Wishing them all the best!

tauna