Mid July, and summer begins to turn hotter and drier. The growth of most plants is slowing and their leaves will soon turn a little duller. But it’s the start of the season for the thin stalks of bright, light blue flowers that grow close along the roads and in sun-hardened patches of earth in the angles of intersections. From a moving car, chicory is a tiny galaxy of sky blue dots and wheels pointed in various directions as they hug the road.
Chicory has been pushing its way into civilization for a long time. Its goes back 40 million years, when it differentiated from the daisies and marigolds in its family. Its medicinal uses date back to Egypt and Rome. Today it is still an effective toxin against parasites in animals. Its roasted root substitutes for and is added to coffee in Europe and the U.S. Its dandelion-like leaves make good salad; cultivated varieties of chicory include endive and radicchio.
Each flower blooms only for a day or two. Each plant lives for two years, flowering only during its second summer, after which the plant dies at first frost. Forty million years of fleeting life.
It’s the light blue flowers and their affinity for roadsides and compacted dirt that catch my attention. Chicory is apparently drawn to the warmth of the pavement. The ingenuity of life.
“Asteracea poster 3” by Alvesgaspar, Tony Wills (10) – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –