Prairie dock is a tall perennial herb with woody taproots, the flower stalk very slender, with reduced stem leaves. Flowerheads one to few in an open inflorescence on a long stem; yellow, with 15–21 rays. Blooms July–October. Leaves almost all basal, very large, to 16 inches long, heart- or spade-shaped, with coarse teeth, on a long petiole, thick, leathery, and rough like sandpaper. The leaves develop all summer and are present at flowering time. The flower stalk rises in early fall. The species name means “with turpentine” and refers to the rosin, which gives this plant a pleasant scent.
Similar species: There are 6 Silphium species recorded for Missouri. Of these, prairie dock, starry rosinweed (S. asteriscus), rosinweed (S. integrifolium), compass plant (S. laciniatum), and cup plant (S. perfoliatum) are relatively common. Prairie dock is identified by its large, basal, unlobed leaves with only small, bractlike leaves on the stem.