On the cutting edge



Each July and August I delight in seeing the scrappy rows of periwinkle-blue chicory flowers along the country roads between work and home. I am always struck by the fact that you see chicory within the first few feet of the side of the road, but almost nowhere else. It is a pretty harsh environment.

Think about it.

The soil there is more compacted than inland, so I imagine the roots would get less oxygen. There is more sand and the remnants of ice salt from the winter months. There are oil residues from car lubricants and fuels, as well as the chemicals that come from asphalt and the tar used to seal cracks in the pavement. Lots of gravel and grit pepper the sides of roadways.

Debris from vehicles (both pieces of the vehicle and items falling out of them) grind into the road and is blown or washed off to the side. This can include a large number of compounds from plastics, glass, rubber from tires, metal, aluminum from cans, paper and wood products, paint and solvents that were on the wood, along with any pollutants from the emissions of vehicles. Somewhere during the course of the summer months the grass along the edges of the road are cut down for better visibility for traffic.

Yet it is in this environment that chicory seems to thrive.

It is not that this type of road side environment is better for chicory; it is that this environment is intolerable for most other plants. Chicory could probably thrive quite well in better soil, but there are so many other plants that out-compete chicory in those places. Maybe this is why I admire chicory—other than for the beautiful blue color.  Amidst such adverse circumstances, it flourishes. It doesn’t just lie down and quit.

This past week I took my camera to work in order to photograph the chicory on my ride home. However, the flowers were totally gone by late afternoon. It turns out that chicory blooms only in morning sun and closes by late afternoon. It knows how to take a mini Sabbath to be able to get up the next day and do it all over again.