When the leaves emerged under our bird feeder I was expecting a tall brilliant sunflower later in the summer, just like last year. It had grown six feet tall, with a stem strong enough to maintain an erect stance. Instead of one massive head there was a progression of blooms, each about the size of my open hand. I felt this beauty a thank you gift from the birds for having supplied them a source of sustenance all year, though my brain told me it was a random seed that was untouched on the ground long enough to germinate and reach its full potential. Instead what emerged was a dandelion like cluster of leaves, but larger than the average dandelion leaf, so I was intrigued and allowed it to grow so that I could see its true identify.
Slowly a thin green stalk began growing, growing, growing up along the post of the bird feeder, somewhat bent as if unsure what it was suppose to do with its slender new length. Then another leggy stalk and finally a third grew, each bending awkwardly in the air, not using the post as support, appearing to have difficulty standing tall like last year’s sunflower. The stalks were leafless, and squared instead of round. I was intrigued at this assumed weed and let it continue its maturation.
Chicory flower and buds copyright 2012 Pamela Breitberg
Then one morning, as I walked past, I saw a faint blue on one of the regularly occurring nodules along the stalk. “Aha, a Cornflower”, I thought. I was happy because I’ve always liked the Cornflower’s flower, a blue, daisy-like beauty. Yet it’s considered a weed being found prevalently along roadsides, so I would never purposely introduce it to my cultivated perennial garden. Goldenrod is one of those species maligned as a weed, yet it is a native prairie plant and so that I am proud to have had it “volunteer” as part of my garden design. Cornflower would have to find its way into my garden on its own if it were ever to allow me to count it as part of my habitat. And I was pleased it was gracing this spot. I’m unsure how it arrived; I don’t think it’s an ingredient in the bird seed mixture, so it must have arrived via wind or one of the numerous two or four legged visitors through our yard.
I mentioned this new addition to my mother who gently reminded me that she considered the plant Chicory and thought Cornflower a different species than what I was observing. My mother is a gardening and plant enthusiast, whose expertise obviously spans more years than mine. She’s also confident in her knowledge leading her to use to her honed internet skills to find verification of her identification for this plant. I humbly admit that the name of my guest plant is indeed Chicory, though one of its other names is sometimes Cornflower. However the more common use of the name, Cornflower, is for a plant I call Bachelors Button. Chicory (Cichorium intybus) it is; my cornflower, is officially listed as a noxious Eurasian weed in Colorado. In contrast the more accepted species known as Cornflower (Centaurea cyanu) which I know as Bachelors Button is an annual often cultivated for cut flowers; in others words a welcome plant in the garden. I do not dislike the Bachelors Button, but as it is difficult to unlearn what one has already learned (ah, the rebellious child in me is rising up) I will continue to refer to this Chicory as my Cornflower and hope that it shares space with the other species while it inhabits my garden space. …..Love you mom!!
Chicory copyright 2012 Pamela Breitberg