What is a Calliopsis?

O. Parker
O. Parker
Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

Calliopsis, also called plains coreopsis, is an annual flowering plant native to the Southeastern United States, where it grows wild in damp meadows, along ditches and culverts and in open areas. The popularity of this plant in gardens and other cultivated areas has lead to its escape and naturalization though most of the United States. Calliopsis has open yellow flowers with a brick red interior. The scientific name is Coreopsis tinctoria, and it is a member of the Asteraceae, or Aster, family.

Individual plants grow 1 to 3 feet (about 30 to 90 cm) tall and 1.5 feet (about 45 cm) wide on slender green branching stems. The narrow green leaves grow to about 3 inches (7 cm) long and cluster around the base and lower half of the stalk. The flowers bloom in the early summer and continue into early fall. The open, simple flowers are striking with the yellow on the outer half and brick red color in the inner half of each petal. Though this plant is classified as an annual, a calliopsis plant may bloom two or three years in a row from the same root stock.

Calliopsis is a popular annual landscape plant. It is particularly effective as a border around other annuals and perennials, planted en mass under landscape trees and in cultivated wild areas of the garden or landscape. This hardy annual thrives in damp soil but is also drought tolerant, making it a suitable solution for dry areas and areas with poor soil conditions.

The seeds are collected in the fall, four weeks after the flowers begin to fade on the plant. The seeds can be resown in the fall or stored over the winter and sown in the spring. This plant self propagates from seed and will come back year after year with little or no encouragement. To control the spread of calliopsis, flowers are removed from the plant before they go to seed. Deadheading the flowers also encourages continued blooming throughout the summer and early fall. Clump division in the fall is an alternate method of propagation.

The bright flowers of the calliopsis attract butterflies to the summer garden as well as bees and other beneficial pollinating insects. Seed-eating birds are attracted to the flowers in the fall, when the plants go to seed. Calliopsis also is considered deer-resistant, making it a good annual for areas that are plagued by wandering herbivores.

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