Tree. Wildflower. Weed.
I was warmed on receiving a gracious letter from a 95-year-old correspondent who hoped I could identify a flower she found particularly appealing.
I quickly told her my sagacity did not extend to wildflowers or, honestly, much of anything else. I do have a shelf full of reference books ("Atmosphere" to "Warblers") and am quite good at asking questions whenever I feel stymied.
Presuming I may quote her, the letter read "Maybe you could tell me about another 'weed' which I think is beautiful. It's that beautiful blue flower that looks like a little daisy. I have a difficult time trying to keep my yard man from cutting it down.
"It is so beautiful," she continues, "I can't understand why it has not been domesticated. The plant stem grows quite tall - 2 to 3 feet - several single flowers on a stem."
The writer thought it might be a cornflower or a gentian. Checking books I learned that the cornflower is actually another name for the bachelor's button and we know that is quite different looking. I found many gentians but they were cupped flowers so that too was out.
My initial thought was "CHICKORY." My second was a realization I couldn't spell it correctly.
Chicory is indeed a blue daisy-like flower and quite abundant from June to October. What sets it apart in my mind is the square end of the petals, quite unlike the more usual tapered points.
Discovering the one in my album is a pinkish-purple (purply pink?), I hied down to the roadway where I'd seen (and admired) a number of these.
Plowed. Not a blue flower anywhere.
I learned it is part of the aster family with individual flowers that lack a stalk. Only a couple of the many showy flowers open at once and none lasts more than a day (less if the mower gets there first).
While the ease with which it can proliferate makes it a pest, it is sometimes grown for its uses as a food. The root, you see, can be roasted and ground and added to coffee. At times it has been used as a coffee substitute, particularly in Louisiana.
As anticipated, the Internet had plenty to offer including a British pop group named Chicory Tip. No explanation offered.
Although the seeds are sold commercially for the "electric blue flower on edible plants," sales are prohibited in Colorado where, I presume, Coloradoans remain happy with their own wildflowers.
The root was variously described as having a woody, peppery, licorice-like, nutty flavor or "tasting like dirt." It was felt it was too bitter if not mixed with coffee or barley while others suggested the extract caused extreme gas and intestinal pain.
The leaves are similar to endive (same family) and can be used like lettuce or served cooked.
I was too early to find the flowers open this morning but chewed up a piece of the leaf. It has the consistency of sandpaper and is very bitter. Later my stomach cautioned this had not been the smartest move of my day.
But that electric blue flower is lovely indeed.
Susan Crossett is a Cassadaga resident. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org