People often pass these flowers by without a second glance. But I think they are worth taking the time to admire, and even to consider transplanting into a garden.
Here is some information on 3 of my favorite ditch flowers. In the future, I hope to have more posts on various wildflowers and other wild plants.
CHICORY (Cichorium intybus)
Why I love it: It's so very BLUE! It is also airy, tough and useful. Next year, I hope to create a blue border in my yard. When I do, I am going to try to transplant one of these from the ditch to my yard. I am also going to try to collect seed from some of the plants near my home to try starting them that way as well. Wish me luck!
Description: Herbaceous perennial. Blue stalkless flowers 1.5 inches (3.8cm) in size. On tall stalks to 4ft. (1.2m) in height. Has a fleshy, white taproot. The leaves are spiky, and kind of look like dandelion leaves. Blooms early summer.
Where found: Roadsides, and open fields.
Grows in full sun and poor soil. The plant is native to Europe, but has become naturalized throughout the United States and Australia as well.
Uses: The roots can be roasted and ground as a coffee substitute or filler. You can make chicory "coffee" by steeping 1.5tsp ground roasted chicory in a cup of boiled water. The leaves can be boiled and eaten if you gather them early. Older leaves can turn very bitter. It can also be used as forage for livestock.
For more information/works cited: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicory or The Peterson Field Guide: Edible Wild Plants Eastern/Central North America
Queen Anne's Lace / Bishop's Lace/ Wild Carrot (Daucus carota)
Why I love it: These flowers really do look like lace. They attract beneficial insects, and are useful. I also love the story that goes with it: Once upon a time, Queen Ann (England 1665-1714) was sewing some lace and pricked her finger. Her blood spilled onto the lace. It is said that the purple flower in the center of the lacy umbel of Daucus carota resembles the queen's sewing accident.
Description: Herbaceous biennial. White, lacy, flat (umbel) flower clusters, often with a single dark purple flower in the center. Hairy stem. Stiff, 3-forked bracts. The leaves are feathery and resemble carrot leaves. The tap root is white and smells like carrot. 2-3 ft (60-90cm) in height. Blooms early summer until fall.
Where found: Roadsides and open fields throughout North America, zones 3-9. It is indigenous to Eurasia and Northeastern Africa. It can also be found in Australia.
Uses: Cook the roots and eat them as carrots. SEE WARNING ABOVE.
For more information/works cited: http://www.ediblewildfood.com/queen-annes-lace.aspx, The Peterson Field Guide: Edible Wild Plants Eastern/Central North America, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daucus_carota
Daisy Fleabane (Erigeron annuus)
Why I love it: The tiny daisies are so cute!! It is also a native plant that bees adore. Ancient folklore states that these plants are good for repelling fleas, however its usefulness in this regard is debatable (or unlikely).
Description: Herbaceous annual or biennial in the aster family. The flowers are 1/2 inch (1-2cm) across and look like daisies. The entire plant is 1-3 feet tall (0.5-1m) The stems are grooved and hairy towards the base, and branch towards the top. The leaves are thin and oblong in shape. Some of the larger leaves have coarse teeth. They bloom in late spring to early summer for 1-2 months.
Where found: Roadsides and open field throughout North America (all zones). It prefers full sun and good moisture and can tolerate any type of soil.
Uses: Food for sheep, groundhogs, and rabbits. Bees, wasps, butterflies and beetles love their pollen.
For more information/works cited: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erigeron_annuus, http://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/prairie/plantx/ds_fleabanex.htm, http://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=ERAN
I hope that on your next walk, bike ride or drive down the road, you take the time to admire these often over-looked treasures in our landscape, and that you love them as much as I (and the bees) do!