close up of a yellow flower

An Ocean of Yellow

Coreopsis palmata is a prairie flower that is native to Iowa as well as at least thirteen other nearby states, including the majority of the Midwest and several southern states.

Coreopsis has an interesting meaning: bug-like; referring to the dried fruit which looks like a tick. This is derived from the Greek words koris, meaning “bug”and –opsis, denoting a resemblance. The species name, palmata, describes the leaf shape as a hand with fingers. All together, meaning a fruit resembling a bug with leaves like fingers. Knowing this tells us where Coreopsis palmata gets a few of its many common names, including: tickseed, stiff tickseed, finger coreopsis, prairie coreopsis, stiff coreopsis and just plain coreopsis.

Early European settlers travelling through the tall grass prairie are said to have encountered larges patches of Coreopsis flowers and coined it the Ocean of Yellow. With bright yellow flowers and the ability to spread quickly throughout an area, this is was probably a spot-on description.

Prairie coreopsis is an erect perennial with deep green foliage and brilliant yellow inflorescence. This plant can grow to be two or three feet tall with flower heads measuring two to three inches across. Each flower head is made up of a countless number of disk florets in the center, surrounded by about eight ray florets. Even though tickseed has no floral scent, it still manages to put on quite a show with its radiant color and long bloom time in early summer. Typically, Coreopsis blooms for about 3 weeks during June and July, but deadheading will extend this period. The flowers are not the only interesting feature on this plant: the three long, narrow lobes of the leaves add texture and appeal. Reddish tints often appear on foliage during fall months, giving this plant year-round interest.

Tickseed prefers to grow in the full sun with dry conditions. Natural habitats include meadows, sand prairies, mesic prairies, gravelly hill prairies, thickets, limestone glades and abandoned fields. Accordingly, Coreopsis is easy to grow and incredibly drought tolerant.

In the home landscape tickseed is best used as a mass planting where it is allowed to spread, such as in a border, native garden, naturalized area, prairie or wildflower meadow. It is important that Coreopsis gets enough sun and not too much water; otherwise it tends to sprawl and become unsightly.

At the Reiman Gardens Coreopsis palmata is featured in the Jones Rose Garden, where it displays its stunning color along with dozens of other summer-blooming perennials. A fun way to preserve the natural history and culture of the land is to include native plants and flowers in your landscape.