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Roadside Flowers

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 2, 2013

Last week I drove my son Tyler back to college for his fall semester at University of Illinois in Champaign. Along the way, he asked me what the blue flowers were along the roadside. Have you noticed the beautiful flowers blooming along our roadsides right now? Illinois roadsides are quite beautiful in late summer.

Tyler was referring to chicory that frequently grows along the compacted edges of roadsides. Chicory has a bright blue, 1 ½ inch wide flower and grows one to four-feet tall. Only a few flower heads open at a time and each last only a day. The roots are sometimes used as a coffee substitute or additive. I think the chicory flower shade of blue is one of the most beautiful in our plant world.

There was also a red clover purple flower blooming along the roadway that day. Red clover has one inch wide magenta or purple flower heads at the top of 6 – 24 inch tall plants. This is a three-leaf clover, with leaflets blotched in white. If you look carefully you might also find a rare four or five-leaf clover among its vegetation.

The most obvious roadside plant is grass. Unmown grasses are in full bloom right now and appear graceful as they sway with the wind (or passing vehicles). Grasses make their peak in late summer, but are attractive even in winter when the golden, dead foliage creates a stunning presence in a stark landscape. Common grasses along roadsides include foxtails, fall panicum, and timothy.

Tucked among the grass you will often see the dainty white Queen Anne's Lace. Queen Anne's Lace, also known as wild carrot, has lacy, flat-topped clusters of tiny cream-white flowers. Each flower has one dark flower at the center. Although attractive, this biennial plant is considered a troublesome weed. It is the ancestor of the garden carrot.

In many areas, bright yellow Jerusalem Artichoke makes a spectacular show this time of year. This sunflower has a yellow, three-inch flower and can grow five to ten feet tall. The Indians cultivated this large, coarse sunflower for its edible tuber.

Some roadside plants are not a welcome sight. I cringe whenever I see noxious weeds such as Musk thistle or ragweed. Noxious weeds are plants that are required by law to be controlled. Unfortunately, we still see them everywhere. Musk thistle actually has a beautiful purple flower head, but it will quickly take over as it spreads. Ragweeds are noxious within towns because they cause severe allergies in some people. The culprit is pollen released by their inconspicuous green flowers.

I hope this helps you better appreciate the roadsides you drive past each day. Please remember these cautions, however. Do not collect roadside plants and keep your eyes on the road for safe driving.

If you need a reasonable accommodation to participate in any event listed in this news release, contact your local Extension office.

Source: Rhonda J. Ferree, Extension Educator, Horticulture & State Master Naturalist Coordinator, ferreer@uiuc.edu