Wednesday's Wildflower: Tickseed, Coreopsis spp.

Tickseed, Coreopsis spp.
Submitted by Carol Mahler, Serenoa Chapter of Florida Native Plant Society

Coreopsis, photo by Carol Mahler

Although the orange blossom, Citra sinensis, was named our state flower in 1909, the legislature designated the genus Coreopsis as our state wildflower in 1991. According to the Netstate, the story began in 1963 as the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) finished a project near Tallahassee that required sod. The sod field had previously been a pasture planted in red clover—a winter forage for cattle. When the clover blossomed in the new grass, people complimented FDOT for their “highway beautification.” That praise inspired FDOT to plant native wildflowers along Florida’s highways.

A partnership with the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs funded a research project at Florida Atlantic University. The results recommended many varieties of coreopsis, and the Federation lobbied for coreopsis to be designated as Florida’s state wildflower. The Florida Statutes, Title 4, Chapter 15, Section 0345, reads: “The Coreopsis is hereby designated and declared the official Florida state wildflower, as species of this genus are found throughout the state and are used extensively in roadside plantings and highway beautification.”

Coreopsis, photo by Carol Mahler

Well-known in the south as “calliopsis,” derived from Greek words meaning “beautiful appearance," Coreopsis is sometimes called “dye flower,” because the blooms are used to color fabric. The species is included in a list of plants used for dyes in the University of Florida IFAS Extension, EDIS Publication 1439: 50 Common Native Plants Important to Florida’s Ethnobotanical History, written by Ginger M. Allen, Michael D. Bond, and Martin B. Main. I once owned a bedspread woven of yarn spun from fleece sheared from sheep raised in DeSoto County, and the wool was dyed to a beautiful reddish-brown using coreopsis flowers harvested locally.

More than a dozen varieties of Coreopsis bloom in a range of yellow and gold ray florets with dark disk florets, and Coreopsis nudata—sometimes called “swamp coreopsis”—produces pale yellow disk and pink ray florets. Stems are slender; leaves vary. Most species flourish in sunny, moist habitats—such as ditches, creek and river banks, and marshes, but some thrive in sun-soaked uplands. They are easily grown from seeds and readily reseed themselves.The common name for coreopsis is “tickseed” because their seeds look like blood-sucking ticks.

Coreopsis, photo by Carol Mahler

Walter Kingsley Taylor, author of Florida Wildflowers in Their Natural Communities, notes that Coreopsis leavenworthii, or Leavenworth’s Tickseed, was named for Dr. Melines Conkling Leavenworth (1796-1862). According to American Medical Biographies by Howard Atwood Kelly and Walter Lincoln Burrage, after graduating from Yale Medical School in 1817, Leavenworth studied botany and worked in the botanical garden for Yale’s college of medicine. Later, he served as a U.S. Army surgeon and wherever he was sent, he conducted botanical researches.In 1838, during the Second Seminole War, he was stationed at Fort King near present-day Ocala. He could have observed and described his namesake coreopsis while he was there. The Second Seminole War (1835-1842) was the longest, deadliest, and most costly of the “Indian Wars” fought in the United States after Congress passed the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Many scholars have detailed the results of this war--such as statehood for Florida in 1845; however, I have yet to read that the name of one of the most common species of our state wildflower is one of the conflict’s outcomes.

A specialty license plate features Coreopsis, and sales benefit the Florida Wildflower Foundation (FWF). The Foundation uses the money to fund “native Florida wildflower research, education and planting projects.” The FWF website includes a brochure about coreopsis, a photo gallery, and a wealth of information about Florida wildflowers.

A professional storyteller and freelance writer, Carol Mahler edits publications for the DeSoto County Historical Society and coordinates the Society’s Research Library and Museum. Her books include Guy LaBree: Barefoot Artist of the Florida Seminoles (UPF 2010), Adventures in the Charlotte Harbor Watershed: A Story of Four Animals and Their Neighborhoods (CHNEP, 2008-2017), and other titles.

Other Links: 
Mary & Jan in field of Coreopsis at Bok Tower
Photo by Donna Bollenbach
USF Plant Atlas: Coreopsis spp.
FNPS/Native Plants For Your Area:
Coreopsis leavenworthii


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