Plains Coreopsis is a drought tolerant annual wildflower native to North America. Scientifically known as Coreopsis tinctoria, it grows 1-3′ tall in full sun and well draining soil. Not picky about soil type, it blooms for roughly two months in Summer to early fall it attracts bees, butterflies, skippers, and hosts several moth caterpillars.
I’ve been growing this flower for years in my backyard micro-prairie and in various flower beds. As far as annuals go, you can easily germinate this in Spring from direct seeding or in pots and have it flower by July in zone 6 (I’m in southern PA). It will put out a lot of blooms, adding interest and beauty, but more as a ‘background’ and not a focal point. And if showiness is your goal, you can deadhead the plant to stimulate more blooming.
One thing I really enjoy about this flower is that the stalks are very thin and almost invisible when contrasted against other plants. This can give a really cool visual effect where the blooms almost seem to be hovering in the air. But grown in fertile soil, isolation, or with too much moisture your plants may get too tall and can flop over. But cutting the plant back (aka the Chelsea Chop) can help prevent them from leaning or flopping.
I grow these just about every year, some that I germinate my self and some that self-seeded on their own. You’ll want to grow them in clusters spaced close together to make a more impressive display, as this plant looks better when planted in groups.
Although Plains Coreopsis is an annual in that it will die in the winter, seed can actually germinate in Fall and the plant will overwinter as a cluster of basal leaves. Then, a flowering stalk will shoot up the following Spring/Summer. This characteristic, known as ‘half-hardy’ is rare in annuals, but not completely unique as American Bellflower will do something similar.
- Plains Coreopsis is an native Annual flower, meaning it will not return the following Spring
- This plant self-seeds quite well, bringing more flowers the following year. But it is not overly aggressive.
- The tall-slender nature of the plant means it may require support, and is susceptible to being knocked over in heavy storms/wind. Or even just from being too top heavy. This is more of a problem in open areas
- Native Americans used Plains Coreopsis medicinally and for colored dyes
- It generally reaches 3-4’ height in full sun, moist sites
- The common name of tickseed is in reference to the shape and appearance of the seed. Don’t worry – this plant doesn’t attract ticks!
- This plant shouldn’t require supplemental watering after establishment
Native Range of Plains Coreopsis
This plant has one of the most unique native ranges I’ve ever come across. Starting along the gulf coast of Texas and Louisiana, it extends North toe The Dakotas and Minnesota, then West to Washington and Oregon. Although not shown below the range also includes most of Canada, from Ontario to British Columbia.
The popularity of this wildflower means that it has now escaped it’s native range. As of this writing it is naturalized and present in all of the continental United States except Nevada. And it hasn’t stopped at the ocean, as Plains Coreopsis was introduced to China as early as 1900, and is naturalized in many provinces.
Plains Coreopsis Reference Table
|Plains Coreopsis, Calliopsis, Golden Tickseed, Tickseed
|Native Range, USDA Zone
|North America, USDA hardiness zones 2-11
|Bloom Duration, Color
|8 weeks, yellow-red
|1-3′ tall (30-90 cm)
|Spacing / Spread
|6″-18″ (15-45 cm)
|Any and all soil texture
|Dry to medium moisture
|Fauna Associations / Larval Hosts
|Bees, butterflies / several moths hosted
Plains Coreopsis has several key benefits that make it an attractive addition to a garden. It is drought tolerant, surviving in the dry plains of Nebraska and South Dakota with ease. The numerous blooms mean you can have a seemingly endless supply of cut flowers. And this is all in addition to being showy while attracting wildlife.
Identification and Characteristics of Plains Coreopsis
The plant is usually 18-36″ tall (15-30 cm) on a thin smooth stalk that is green in color. It will branch depending on how many other plants are nearby. A plant more in the open is more likely to branch.
Leaves occur in pairs along the stem (opposite), are simple or double-pinnate, linear in shape, and 2-4″ wide by 4-6″ long. They are smooth, medium green in color, and have smooth margins. And individual leaflet is 2″ long and roughly 1/8″ wide. Most people would describe the leaves as grass-like as they are so narrow.
Flowerheads are at the end of stems, and in my experience you will get between 5-30 flowerheads per plant. An individual flowerhead is 1-2″ diameter with 6-12 petals that are actually ray flowers.
These ray florets are most often red toward the center, changing to yellow as the extend outward. While rare, it is possible for flowerheads to be completely red or yellow. The petals are narrow at the base, widening as they extend out, and are divided into three lobes.
The petals (ray florets) surround a round center that is covered in small disk florets that have a red-brown color with a yellow or golden tip.
The root system of Plains Coreopsis is fibrous.
How to save seed
About 3 weeks after a flowerhead blooms, a small brown seed head will form. This seed head is like a small ‘packet’ and contains numerous seeds.
To save the seed, use scissors to cut the stalk an inch below a seed head. Leave the seed heads to dry in a brown paper bag in a cool dry place for a week or so. Then, shake the bag or manually pinch the seed heads to releaser the seed.
You can then separate the seed from the chaff using a kitchen strainer, or gently blowing on the mixture on a plate. Store the dried seed in an envelope or zip-lock bag in a dark dry place for two years.
One thing to keep in mind though, is that Plains Coreopsis can hybridize with other species of Coreopsis sp. so if you are growing other species such as Lanceleaf or Large Tickseed, any seed you collect may yield something different.
Is Plains Coreopsis aggressive?
Plains Coreopsis reproduces by seed, in particularly by self-seeding. Seeing how it has naturalized itself across almost all of North America, it is hard to say that it doesn’t have the ability to be aggressive in certain conditions.
However, I would not call this plant aggressive. I’ve been growing it for years, and have often struggled to maintain a population in my backyard meadow. They can often succumb to being shaded out or pushed out by larger, more aggressive plants.
Many of the seeds just seem to get eaten by birds and mice. I’ve never seen it ‘take over’ anything, as even in thick groupings the stems and leaves are so thin they don’t seem to crowd out any other plants.
Plains Coreopsis will do best in full sun, as it is a prairie plant. For soils, it can readily grow in nearly any soil type provided it drains well. And it is tolerant of a variety of moistures, from moist to dry soils.
Just remember that if you have very fertile or moist soil, that this plant may flop over. So, do the Chelsea Chop in late May/early June, and it will be less likely to flop.
How to Grow Plains Coreopsis from Seed
Plains coreopsis only has one special requirement for germination in that it should be exposed to sunlight to break dormancy. It is rather easy to germinate in Spring when temperatures are still cool. You can just prepare a container or starter tray with moist potting soil and sprinkle some seed on top.
Then place the container in a location that receives morning sun and afternoon shade and only water in the morning (I keep mine on the east side of my house). This is important as this way the seed will stay moist all day, but still get it’s morning sunlight (required to break dormancy). Surface sown seeds are prone to drying out if the containers are placed on the south or west side where they get sun all day. Also, by watering in the morning you will avoid any chance of damp-off disease.
As you can see in the picture above, germination should occur within two weeks as long as the seeds are kept moist and receive sunlight. They will grow rapidly, and after they are 2-3 weeks old you should be able to either transplant the seedlings to ground, or separate the seedlings into larger containers.
One last note, just because there are no cold stratification requirements, it doesn’t mean you can’t winter sow the seed. That is usually what I do, as it is by far the easiest method I’ve found to germinate almost any seed.
Now, you can direct sow this seed in late summer/early fall in an open/disturbed seedbed and it will germinate. Just scatter the seed on top of the soil, then walk or compact the seed bed. It should germinate fairly quickly, within a week or two as long as the soil is moist.
Wildlife, Pests, and Diseases associated with Plains Coreopsis
Deer and Rabbits
In my experience both deer and rabbits will browse the foliage of this plant, which is another reason to plant many of them! But you can protect your plants with Liquid Fence.
There really aren’t any diseases that effect this plant.
Where you can buy Plains Coreopsis
Plains Coreopsis is not typically sold in nurseries, as it isn’t a typical ‘annual’ landscaping plant. But it may be possible to be purchased at specialty nurseries that deal in Native Plants. You can find native plant nurseries near you on our interactive map.
Where to buy seeds
You can buy seeds from Everwilde Farms. They actually have two varieties for sale – the regular version that can get 3′ tall and a compact ‘dwarf’ version. I’ve grown both from Everwilde and have been pleased with them. But you can order right from Amazon through our link on our RECOMMENDED PRODUCTS PAGE. (We may earn a small commission when you purchase through our links, at no cost to you. This helps support our website.)
Uses of Plains Coreopsis
Plains Coreopsis looks best when multiple specimens are planted together. You do not want a single plant in a flowerbed, as it just looks lonely. So, plant groups of 10-20 plants for an impressive display.
For companion plants, there are a number of species that do well near Plains Coreopsis. Some excellent choices would be Mexican Hate Coneflower, Blanket Flower (similar color scheme, overlapping bloom periods), Rattlesnake Master, Butterfly Weed, or any kind of Black Eyed Susan.
Native American uses
The Native Americans had many uses for Plains Coreopsis. A red dye was made from the flowerhead, the upper portion of the plant could be dried then used to make hot tea. And several different infusions of the plant could be used to treat a variety of ailments such as diarrhea, venereal disease, and as a disinfectant.
Research has been on-going on extracting chemicals within Plains Coreopsis for use in medicine. Over 100 chemicals have been identified thus far. Potential medicinal uses include treatment of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and possible neuroprotective attributes.
Plains Coreopsis is an attractive annual wildflower that is incredibly easy to grow and generally hassle free. It really does look amazing when the blooms sway in the breeze, seeming to hover over the other vegetation because their stems are so thin. I grow them every year and try to encourage a self-sustaining population in my backyard microprairie.
They provide for pollinators, birds, and rodents (although I’m not big on the rodents), making them an integral part of our ecosystem. And if you plant a whole lot of them in one spot, they absolutely look great.
 – Coreopsis tinctoria, USDA NRCS. Accessed 16DEC2023.
 – American Horticultural Society, Annuals. Mount Vernon, Va. : American Horticultural Society, 1982, pp144.
 – CALLIOPSIS, Coreopsis tinctoria Nutt. USDA NRCS Jamie L. Whitten Plant Materials Center, Coffeeville MA. 2002. Accessed 16DEC2023.
 – Farming with Native Beneficial Insects : Ecological Pest Control Solutions : The Xerces Society Guide, North Adams, MA : Storey Publishing, 2016, pp260
 – Martin, Laura C, The wildflower meadow book : a gardener’s guide, Charlotte, NC : East Woods Press, 1986, pp305.
 – Shen, Jie, et al. “Traditional uses, phytochemistry, pharmacology, and toxicology of Coreopsis tinctoria Nutt.: A review.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology 269 (2021): 113690.
 – Smith, Sarah M., and Zhanao Deng. “Interspecific Hybridization between Coreopsis leavenworthii and Coreopsis tinctoria Differently Affected Growth, Development, and Reproduction of Their Progeny.” Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science 140.1 (2015): 27-37.
 – Eddy, K. G., and O. W. Van Auken. “Importance of mass and light levels for germination of achenes of Coreopsis tinctona Nutt,(coreopsis, goldenwave, Asteraceae).” Phytologia 96 (2014): 159-166.
 – Williams, Charles E. “Coreopsis tinctoria: An unrecorded host plant of adult Calligrapha californica coreopsivora(Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae).” Great Lakes Entomologist 22.2 (1989): 99-100.
 – Braman, S. Kris, Andrew Pendley, and Will Corley. “Plant Susceptibility to and Seasonal Occurrence of Phaedon desotonis Balsbaugh, a Leaf Beetle Attacking Coreopsis.” Journal of Environmental Horticulture (2017).
 – Coreopsis tinctoria, North American Ethnobotany Database. Accessed 18DEC2023.
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