DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- One of my favorite slogans states that the difference between a weed and a flower is judgment. The 2012 drought has proven that statement prophetic.
This year our roadsides have been awash in blue. The weed I grew up calling "cornflower" has endured and one might even say, flourished, despite a period of drought and elevated temperatures rarely experienced in central Illinois.
Last week my husband called to ask the name of this tenacious plant. "It's my new favorite flower," he said. "It's keeping us in business." Our lawn mowing enterprise has been nearly dormant as a result of the drought. Water restrictions have brought a halt to those who once managed to maintain some level of green through irrigation. We don't mow when the grass doesn't grow, but some customers do ask us to keep the weeds knocked down.
I knew cornflower was a common name, but I was surprised to learn that our new favorite flower is actually common chicory (Cichorium intybus). It's a member of the sunflower family and is also known as wild bachelor's buttons, blue daisy, blue dandelion and coffeeweed -- among others.
The bright blue, daisy-like flowers of the common chicory plant generally bloom in the morning, track the sun and close when sunlight is brightest at mid-day. The more I learn about this plant, the more I like its attitude. The fact that the long taproot that makes it so drought tolerant can also be baked, ground and used as a poor-man's coffee substitute only makes the plant seem that much more interesting. According to my research, chicory isn't toxic to livestock and I can't find anything to show that it is much of a problem in row crops.
Is it a weed? Not this year -- chicory has been a bright slash of color against an increasingly brown landscape. Even when times seem tough, nature offers us blue petals of hope.
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