Sunday, July 12, 2015


Weather: We’ve been getting rain with nothing in the Caribbean or Pacific to kick up water; apparently, the conditions in the Great Basin that gave us days of temperatures in the 90s also created a vacuum that pulled water up from the southeast; last rain 7/7.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid tea roses, silver lace vine, trumpet creeper, tall yuccas, lilies, daylily, datura, Spanish broom, sweet pea, alfalfa, Russian sage, hollyhock, bouncing Bess, purple garden phlox, squash, farmer’s single sunflowers, coreopsis, blanket flower, yellow yarrow, Shasta daisy, zinnias from seed, brome grass.

Beyond the walls and fences: Buffalo gourd, yellow mullein, goat’s head, white sweet clover, bindweed, green-leaf five-eyes, Queen Anne’s lace, Hopi tea, goat’s beard, plains paper flower, flea bane, strap leaf, golden hairy and purple asters.

In my yard: Rugosa roses, potentilla, buddleia, Saint John’s wort, California poppy, snow-in-summer, coral beard tongue, lady bells, Goodness Grows veronica, catmints, blue flax, larkspur, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, Mexican hat, black-eyed Susan, chocolate flower, bachelor button, white yarrow.

Bedding plants: Sweet alyssum, pansy, snapdragon, moss roses, marigold, gazania.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Small birds, geckos, swallowtail and cabbage butterflies, dragonfly, bumble bees, hornets, ants.

Weekly update: I covet chicory, and fear it.

I love the color. I still remember when I first saw it growing in the ballast along the rail tracks in northern Ohio. Slate blue daisies were stuck on grooved stems as straight as ramrods, and as barren, almost like ornamental keys on a clarinet.

But, much as I’ve considered buying seeds, I remember the basal rosettes resemble those of dandelions. Cichorium intybus might not spread the same way, but I wouldn’t be able to recognize the yellow-flowered monsters until they were in bloom, which is too late. Otherwise, I might pull the desired composite instead. Both have taproots that would leave a milky residue on my hands.

I’ve only seen chicory here along the road that connects Santa Fé with Taos. For a couple years, it was near the Dreamcatcher light, some other time it down by the Knights of Columbus turn. The last few years it sprouted in the gravel mulch in Walgreens’ roadside bed.

This year I found the double rows of squared off petals on the south side of the ridge that separates the Pojoaque valley from Arroyo Seco. It happened to be right at the boundary between white sweet clover uphill and yellow sweet clover below.

Naturally, the flowers were turned from the road and me. They open in mornings, when they follow the sun. They’re usually gone by afternoon.

The plants I’ve seen were almost always solitary, the results of physics shifting loads when vehicles changed speeds, either to climb hills or to stop or start at traffic lights. The dark blue, double coiled stamens and anthers can’t fertilize their own ovaries, so there must be at least two plants for the perennials to reproduce.

Chicory is probably a Mediterranean plant. The Egyptians used it as a food. One of their words for it, tybi, spread east into Persia as hindaba where the white roots were used medicinally. It must have followed the trade routes east. It now grows wild in parts of India as Kásni. In western China it was used by the Uyghurs. Almost all the Asian herbals say it is a cooling plant.

The Egyptians apparently developed a subspecies today called endive. When Pliny was discussing the plant soon after the birth of Christ, he distinguished the cultivated from the wild forms. Edward Sturtevant didn’t believe chicory was much cultivated until the middle ages. He noted Albertus Magnus was the first to mention growing, as distinct from gathering it. He was active in the mid-1200s.

Chicory spread as far north as England, but was primarily cultivated in France and Belgium. Maude Grieve said there was an attempt in 1778 to introduce it as a forage plant - it’s considered more nutritious than alfalfa. However, it wasn’t accepted. It remained a plant of gravel and chalk, especially on the downs of the southeast coast.

Neither the French nor the English were responsible for introducing it into this country, at least into Michigan. Edward Voss says it didn’t appear there until the 1840s, some fifteen years after farm lands in the lower peninsula were opened to settlement. Then, at least where I grew up, farmers were coming from places like Belgium.

During the civil war, it was introduced to New Orleans as an extender for coffee. However, it didn’t settled there either.

Instead, chicory colonized the lands north of the Ohio and east of the Missouri rivers. It also grows in the Pacific coast states. In between, it seems to have put down roots between the ranges of the Rockies. In 1915, it was only reported in Albuquerque, perhaps as a consequence of the railroad. Now it’s found in disconnected parts of the Río Grande valley and in the Four Corners.

Individual wild plants can interbred with cultivated forms, so that many of the naturalized plants show some genetic combination of both. Tomas Zavada’s team found plants gathered along the road side in New Mexico and Nevada showed the greatest genetic diversity.

I always see it blooming in summer. The brown seeds ripen in fall. Françoise Corbineau and Daniel Côme found they had no dormancy period, which means, if conditions were right, they could germinate immediately. Here, that’s after the rains. In Greece, Pliny said it appeared after the Pleiades, which would be the first of May.

Corbineau, F. and D. Côme. "Germinability and Quality of Cichorium Intybus L. Seeds," Acta Horticulturae 267, 1989.

Dymock, William. The Vegetable Materia Medica of Western India, 1885; on Kásni.

Grieve, Maude. A Modern Herbal, 1931, edited by Hilda Leyel.

Pliny the Elder (Gaius Plinius Secundus). Naturalis Historia, books 20 and 21, translated by W. H. S. Jones, 1951.

Sturtevant, Edward Lewis. Sturtevant’s Edible Plants of the World, edited by U. P. Hedrick, 1919.

Voss, Edward G. Michigan Flora, volume 3, 1966.

Wang, Quanzhen1 and Jian Cui. "Perspectives and Utilization Technologies of Chicory (Cichorium Intybus L.): a Review," African Journal of Biotechnology 10:1966-1977:2011; on Uyghurs.

Wooton, Elmer Otis and Paul Carpenter Standley. Flora of New Mexico, 1915.

Zavada, Tomas, Rondy Malik, Rondy and Kesseli. "Fifty Shapes of Leaf - Origins, Plasticity and Population Structure in Chicory (Cichorium Intybus), a Domesticate Gone Wild," Botanical Society of America, annual meeting, 2013.

Photographs: All taken along route 84 north of Pojoaque, 21 June 2015 around 11:30 am.

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