Happy Ending for Yellow Lady Slippers But What Direction Will the Compass Plants Go?

Cinderella couldn’t miss her glass slipper anymore than I longed for my Yellow Lady Slipper, and I’m glad to report that the Case of the Missing Lady Slipper has a fairy tale ending.  Check out my earlier post, The Case of the Missing Lady Slipper.  After several seasons of deer devouring our precious golden booty, we finally got wise and hauled a double layer of tomato cages up to the glade to protect her.

Thrivingin captivity

Thriving in captivity

At first I disliked seeing a wire tower jutting up in the glade, our most dynamic natural area.  Not a very artistic frame for its glorious picture, however the artwork within did not seem phased.

We were also worried that if the deer didn’t get her, the sunlight would.  We expanded the glade last winter with a grant from the Prairie Enthusiasts, turning the slipper’s woodland-edge environment into a sunnier spot.  But she seems tickled by her new terrain.  She put out more flowers than ever before and each one glowed deep yellow as though it were lit from within.  So, now I am marking next year’s calendar and will have cages at the ready in late March.

The jury is still out on the two compass plants we caged at the same time.  They also seem to be in the deer’s cross hairs.  The compass plant was the tallest stalk in the entire prairie when we first discovered it.  They can grow to 12 feet and send out six to 24 flowers in midsummer that look like sweet little sunflowers.

Not our compass plant, but it could be.

Not our compass plant, but it could be.

Although not so rare as the Lady Slipper, only two have reappeared in our prairie restoration after years of field cropping and a short stint in pines and spruce.  One lonely sentinel towered in the center of the 1-1/2 acres.  When we discovered a single baby compass in another part of the prairie two years later, we thrilled to think we might be on the verge of a compass plant breakout.   But if more compass plants are out there, they have not managed to make it above the other vegetation — probably because the deer nip off their tender buds.  Its resin is supposed to be chewy and sort of sweet.  In the past, people have used it like a kind of chewing gum. Do not try this at home – especially not my home!

Pioneers called it compass plant because the broad leaves at its base point generally north-south.   I find it about as accurate as the compass I got in a Cracker Jack box once.  But whether or not it can actually guide lost wanderers, this is a major plant!  Its tap root can sink 15 feet, and it can live for a 100 years.  A hundred years!

Behind bars for his own good.

Behind bars for his own good.

This year, the deer beat us to both compass plants.  When we found them, their flower stalks were cut cruelly short.  So far, they have not sent up any more flowering stalks, but we keep checking, and hope lives on.  I resisted buying more compass plants at the annual UWArboretum Plant Sale because I want the compass plants in our prairie to be from the original seed bank in our soil.  If only we can keep the deer from making so many withdrawals.

My next post on Friday will be about how we selected our architect.

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