Photo by Donna Lucas.

I have had the honor of working at Kankakee Sands for the past 20 years. That’s 20 years of seeing some of the prettiest flowers on the planet carpet the prairie with their amazing color. Yet, each and every June I am stopped in my tracks on the day that the sand coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata) begins to bloom. There it is, waving its bright yellow blossoms in the wind, sunshine on a stick. 

With large, daisy-like yellow blossoms, sand coreopsis instills an instantaneous happiness. I challenge the grumpiest curmudgeon to look at the flowers and refrain from smiling.

Sand coreopsis by Alyssa Nyberg

Photo by Alyssa Nyberg.

Each sand coreopsis plant has five to twelve bright yellow blossoms. The flowers have eight petals, all notched at the tip with four deep lobes. The bloom sits upon a long leafless stalk, which bounces in the wind. Four-inch long, narrow strap-like leaves are arranged at the base of the plant. The leaves stay green most of the year and provide an attractive groundcover even after the blossoms have faded.

Sand coreopsis thrives in the dry sandy soils of Kankakee Sands. The perennial plants are prolific seeders, and in just a few short years they can grow into large colonies, painting the landscape yellow. Our sand prairies explode like yellow fireworks in June and early July. The flowers are a favorite of butterflies and bees, two very important pollinators.

The yellow flowers last for several weeks and then fade to developing seed heads. Then it is a race between us and the birds to harvest the seed for our prairie plantings before the birds eat them.

The seeds of sand coreopsis are dark and slightly triangular in shape. They resemble ticks, the eight-legged kind that delight in latching onto dogs, deer, mice, and humans. The name “coreopsis” is derived from the Greek Koris meaning “bug or tick” and -opsis meaning “bearing the likeness of.” When the coreopsis is blooming, the eight-legged ticks can unfortunately be just as numerous.

Come out to the Kankakee Sands this June to hike, birdwatch, for a country drive, or to join us for a volunteer workday and enjoy the sand coreopsis for yourself. Before you come, be sure to prepare yourself for happiness!

The Nature Conservancy’s Kankakee Sands of Indiana and Illinois is 10,000 acres of prairie and savanna habitat in Northwest Indiana and Northeast Illinois, open every day of the year for public enjoyment.  For more information visit or call the office at 219-285-2184.