Photo credit: Tall coreopsis with an orange sulfur butterfly, taken by Jeanette Jaskula.
Yellow does for September what orange does for October. It makes you feel that all is well and right, and that summer is coming to a close. The end-of-summer prairie is filled with many different hues of yellow. My favorite yellow is that of tall coreopsis (Coreopsis tripteris), now in bloom at Kankakee Sands.
The yellow of tall coreopsis is not as bright as that of the goldenrods, or as bold as that of the wild lettuces, nor is it as brilliant as that of the sunflowers. Tall coreopsis petals have a more subtle, creamy, buttery shade of yellow.
As its name implies, tall coreopsis is tall, typically five to seven feet in height. Multiple yellow flowers with maroon centers, two inches in diameter, grace the top of branching stems. Tall coreopsis leaves are five inches in length and arranged on opposite sides of the stem. The tips of the leaves are divided into three or five narrow, lance-shaped sections. The stems of tall coreopsis are long and spindly, so much so that even the slightest breeze will have the entire plant dancing to and fro, swaying from side to side.
Despite its fragile appearance, tall coreopsis is a hardy species. It is a perennial plant that will grow in full-sun to part-shade conditions. As for soil, it isn’t particular about sand or loam or clay. As long as it has a medium amount of moisture it will thrive. Tall coreopsis will tolerate competition from other plants, drought, and has few diseases which negatively affect its growth.
The flowers of tall coreopsis are frequented by many insects, including butterflies and bees, which drink nectar and gather pollen from the flowers. The seeds of tall coreopsis provide a nutritious fuel for the migratory songbirds that pass through our area in the late September and October, as well as the birds which overwinter here. The stem and leaves of tall coreopsis have a sweet anise scent that can be used as a fragrant potpourri.
Tall coreopsis is a native plant that is commonly found in prairies. It occurs in twenty-seven of the eastern and Midwestern states, as well as the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario.
In northwest Indiana, tall coreopsis is one of three coreopsis species that are native to our area. Earlier this year, sand coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata) was featured in a Nature Notes article. It is a spring-bloomer and reminds me of sunshine on a stick. Prairie coreopsis (Coreopsis palmata) blooms during the summer, is the shortest of the three coreopsis, and typically grows in large continuous swaths.
Visit Kankakee Sands anytime spring through fall to see the sand, prairie or tall coreopsis in bloom. But be sure to visit Kankakee Sands this September if you’d like to enjoy the buttery yellow of the dancing, tall coreopsis.
The Nature Conservancy’s Kankakee Sands is an 8,300-acre prairie and savanna habitat in Northwest Indiana, open every day of the year for public enjoyment. For more information about Kankakee Sands, visit www.nature.org/KankakeeSands or call the office at 219-285-2184.