Plant Profile: Coreopsis

By Craig Huegel

Reprinted from The Understory, Jul.–Aug. 1993

There are few wildflowers more widespread in Florida than coreopsis. Also known as tickseeds, they line our roads and open areas and give this state its reputation as the "land of flowers." Even our legislators recognized this last year when they designated it our state wildflower. But for all its commonality, few of us realize that 15 distinct species of coreopsis are native to Florida and they differ from each other in appearance and in growing requirements.

Photo © Jan Allyn Our most common coreopsis is Coreopsis leavenworthii. This tickseed occurs throughout Florida in moist pinelands and in disturbed sites. It is endemic to Florida, however, and occurs nowhere else. Its bright yellow ray petals and brownish central disk flowers bloom from late spring through late fall, and some flowers may be found year-round. This coreopsis often reaches about 3 feet in height. Its leaves are thin and lobed. C. leavenworthii grows much like a weed. It quickly establishes itself on bare soil in all but the driest areas. Essentially an annual, it produces a great many seeds and will multiply and persist as long as it receives adequate sun and moisture.

Many other tickseeds have similar flowers, but differ vegetatively and ecologically. Florida coreopsis (C. floridana) is a 3-foot tall perennial with rather large thick leaves that also are deeply lobed. This species is native to north and central Florida in moist pinelands. It blooms in the fall and early winter. Glades coreopsis (C. gladiata) is a native of moist acid areas throughout the state. This perennial has flowers and growth much like C. leavenworthii, but the leaves are simple and without lobes. Glades coreopsis blooms from summer to early winter. Some other species are rather uncommon. Chipola coreopsis (C. integrifolia) is an example of this. It is found only along the Chipola River in north Florida. This w-foot tall perennial has deep green oval-shaped leaves and deep yellow flowers. It spreads by underground runners, but is not aggressive at colonizing open areas. I have planted this wildflower at the County Extension office in Pinellas and it has done very well. It seems to prefer moist soils and some protection from full sun. It blooms in the fall.

Not all coreopsis fit this general pattern of having yellowish ray petals and a central disk of dark brown flowers. One exception is C. lanceolata lance-leaved coreopsis. As its name implies, this coreopsis is characterized by narrow lance-shaped leaves that are unlobed. Native to both upland and moist-soil habitats of north and north-central Florida, lance-leaved coreopsis is a robust plant that may reach 3¼ feet in height. Its flowers, which bloom in spring and early summer, are composed of lemony yellow outer petals and yellow inner disk petals. There is no dark center. The flowers also are about twice as large as C. leavenworthii.

The greatest exception, however, has to be swamp coreopsis (C. nudata). This relatively uncommon species is native to moist pineland areas of north Florida and parts of the Southeast. I have seen large stands of it in the Apalachicola National Forest, west of Tallahassee. Swamp coreopsis has beautiful rich pink outer ray petals and a central disk of bright yellow flowers. From a distance it looks a bit like many of the meadow beauties (Rhexia spp.) because of the color, but this flower is every bit a coreopsis. These 3-foot tall perennials bloom during the spring and early summer months. I have not tried to grow it here, but it is available from a number of sources and might survive given the right soil conditions and some relief from the afternoon sun.

The many species of coreopsis make attractive additions to a wildflower planting. Most are quite adaptable, but the vast majority do best in a setting where they receive extra moisture. The name "tickseed" is applied to many other plats besides the coreopsis, and is derived from the tiny hooks on their seeds which may attach to your pant legs or to the fur of an animal. It is in this manner that new plants are established far from their parents. Coreopsis are not nearly as good at this, however, as some of the other, non-related, "tickseeds" such as Spanish needles or beggar's lice. Coreopsis are pollinated mostly by small bees and are not visited much by butterflies. They are best used as a show of color and as a ground cover.

Published on  06.01.2013