A weed is a plant out of place. In one location a plant may be considered a beautiful flower, where in other locations it may be considered a weed. This often happens with wildflowers that grow in roadside ditches and railroad tracks, as with chicory. Chicory (Cichorium intybus) is a perennial wildflower that is well-suited to a wildflower garden, acreage, or native grass prairie.
This plant blooms a beautiful sky-blue color, usually beginning in June. A member of the aster family, chicory has aster-type flowers with 5 lobes along the end of each petal. The leaves grow as a rosette on the ground and are irregularly toothed or deeply lobed. Along the stems are sparse leaves that are smaller and oblong-shaped. They may not be toothed, or they may have small indentations along the edges of the leaves.
Chicory is a naturalized wildflower commonly used along roadsides because it takes minimal care. It is easy to establish, can be mowed over and will bloom again after being mowed down. Plant chicory in full sun in wildflower gardens and native grass areas.
Chicory has many uses. As an entomologist, I use it to determine when the Japanese beetles, invasive insects found in some locations in Nebraska, are beginning to fly as adults for the year. If you are in an area with high populations of Japanese beetles, time your controls with the bloom time of the chicory. According to the Weeds of the Great Plains, Chicory is grown as a root crop in some locations of the US because the root can be dried, roasted, and used as a caffeine-free coffee substitute. The root can be used in bread and pastries to pull out the flavor of the sugars used in these baked goods. The Weeds of the Great Plains also states that chicory is grown as a hay crop in Europe as livestock enjoy this plant as well.
Some people may disagree that chicory is a beautiful wildflower. It is grown along the roadside ditches, which is why it gets its weed designation. However, it is grown there because it is easy to grow and takes little care. This is the type of plant we like to have in our roadside ditches because these sites need plant coverage. Bare soil invites erosion and invasive weeds.
If you're interested in planting chicory on your acreage, look for it where wild flower seeds are sold. Blue is a rare color for the flower world, so consider chicory.