Mid July, and summer turns hotter and drier. Most plants slow their growth and soon leaves will turn a slightly duller green. But the peak season begins 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 blue dots and wheels pointed every which way as they hug the road.
Chicory has been pushing its way into civilization for a long time. It originated 40 million years ago when it branched off from the daisies and marigolds in its family. The Egyptians and Romans used it as medicine. Today it remains an effective toxin against parasites in animals. The roasted root substitutes for and is added to coffee in Europe and the U.S. Its dandelion-like leaves make good salad; among its relatives are endive and radicchio.
Each blue flower blooms for only a day or two. The plant lives for two years, flowering only during its second summer and then dying at first frost. Forty million years of fleeting, persistent life.
It’s the scattered blue flowers and their affinity for roadsides and compacted dirt that catch my attention. Chicory likes the warmth of pavement. Ingenious life.
“Asteracea poster 3” by Alvesgaspar, Tony Wills (10) – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –