Sunshine on a stick

Coreopsis is plentiful, and beautiful, at Kankakee Sands.

By Alyssa Nyberg

I have worked at Kankakee Sands for 13 years now, caring for the precious native plants of Newton County in our outdoor seed production nursery.   That’s 13 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, sunshine on a stick, waving its bright yellow blossoms in the wind.  Each year, no matter how hard I try to stop myself, I can’t help but say out loud, “good morning sunshine!”

It’s amazing what the flower’s beauty does for the spirit.  It quickens the step and lightens the mind.  The large, 1.5” daisy-like yellow blossoms of the sand coreopsis instill an instantaneous happiness.  I challenge the grumpiest curmudgeon to look at the flowers and refrain from smiling.     

Each sand coreopsis plant has 5 to 12 bright yellow blossoms.  The flowers have 8 petals, all notched at the tip with 4 deep lobes. The blooms sit upon a long leafless stalk, which bounces in the wind.  The 4-inch long, rubbery leaves are all 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 our dry, sandy soils.  The perennial plants are prolific seeders and in just a few short years they can grow into large colonies, painting the landscape yellow.   The nursery and our sand prairies explode like yellow fireworks in June and early July.  The flowers are a favorite of the pollinators, butterflies and bees.  The explosion lasts for several weeks and then fades to developing seed heads.  Then it is a race against the birds to harvest the seed in time. 

The seeds of sand coreopsis are dark and slightly triangular in shape, reminiscent of a tick to those who first named the plant ‘coreopsis’.   ’Coreopsis’ is derived from the Greek Koris meaning “bug or tick” and   -opsis meaning “bearing the likeness of.”   And as it just so happens, when the coreopsis is blooming, the real 6-legged ticks are just as numerous!

Come out to the Kankakee Sands this June to hike or bird watch, for a country drive or to join us for a volunteer workday and see the sand coreopsis for yourself.  And 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.

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