Production Blog
Pam Smith DTN\Progressive Farmer Crops Technology Editor

Tuesday 08/07/12

Embracing The August Blues

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.

The cornflower blue color of common chicory has been a constant companion this summer in Illinois. (DTN photo by Pamela Smith)

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.

Posted at 6:22AM CDT 08/07/12 by Pam Smith
Comments (3)
Pam: Yet another name I have heard for chicory is "blue devil". The beautiful blue of its flower seems to be most intense in the early morning sunlight. Varieties of chicory have been bred as a forage/grazing plant.
Posted by Campbell Ian at 9:44AM CDT 08/08/12
That's a new name on me. Thanks for sharing! It seems there may even been some medicinal reasons for livestock grazing on chicory. I think it is interesting that it sometimes takes a drought for us to see the common things that surround us.
Posted by Pamela Smith at 4:43PM CDT 08/09/12
Upon landing in Dusseldorf, Germany this morning, the first thing I noticed was the blue chicory along the roadway.
Posted by Pamela Smith at 3:30AM CDT 09/18/12
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