Chicory is a plant of sunny edges and roadsides, an erect introduced perennial forb, growing on angled stems from 1 to 6 feet high. The stems have short stiff hairs, contain a milky sap, and can be much branched, especially in the upper part. Typically green, the stems may have a reddish brown tinge in the upper parts. The first year there is only a basal rosette of leaves, in second and subsequent years the tall stem rises.
Leaves: The basal leaves are stalkless, lance-like to linear, with margins that either have dentations or more pinnate with sharply defined indentations. The stem leaves are alternate, smaller, and partly clasping the stem. They can be entire or toothed. Both basal and stem leaves have short surface and marginal hair with longer whitish hair on the underside of the main rib. The pinnate leaves can resemble dandelion leaves. All the leaves have a bitter taste.
The floral array is a tight cluster of 1 to 3 flower heads widely spaced along the stem and rising from the upper leaf axils. The heads are either stalkless or on extremely short stalks.
The flowers are to 1-1/2 inches wide with 8 to 25 blue or white ray florets. Most in the Garden are blue, the most common color. The ray tips are 5-toothed. Unlike most Aster family species, there are no disc florets. Stamens are grouped around the style which has a bifurcated tip. The central receptacle is flat and yellowish. In the blue type the stamens have blue anthers and the style stigma is blue; in the white flower type, anthers are white as is the stigma. The flowers will only open in the sun and may close by early afternoon, hence the common name of "blue sailors". The flower head is cylindric in shape and has two series of phyllaries - the outer series of 5 or 6, lanceolate in shape with triangular spreading tips, the inner series of 6 to 12, longer and wider, also with pointed tips; the inner with hairy margins, both types with some glandular hair on the surface.
Seed: Fertile flowers produce a dry smooth browinsh cypselae (achene like seed) 2 to 3 mm long, that is 3 to 5 angled, without a beak and has some very short whitish bristles on the larger end.
Invasive: It is considered very invasive in many areas, spreading by re-seeding
Habitat: Chicory grows from a large taproot and is difficult to remove. When not cultivated, Chicory is found in disturbed area, roadsides, railroad right of ways, and uncultivated fields. In the Garden look for it along the path edges. It grows in a variety of soils, is tolerant of dry conditions, but requires full sun for good flowering. It spreads by re-seeding. Linnaeus used this flower in his floral clock at Upsala because at his latitude it regularly opened at 5 AM and closed at 10 AM. More lore below.
Names: The genus name, Cichorium, is the Latinized version of an ancient Arabic name. The species name, intybus, is derived from intubus, the Latin name for wild chicory, which in turn may have been from the Egyptian word tybi, meaning 'January', the month the Egyptians could use the plant for food. The author name for the plant classification, 'L.', refers to Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy. The other common name of 'Succory', according to Mrs. Grive (Ref. #7) is either derived from the Latin succurrere (to run under), referring to the depth of the root or is a corruption of the name Chicory itself.
Comparisons: Not to be confused with any other forb in this area unless Curly Endive, Cichorium endivia, is planted nearby, but the curly leaves of the Endive should distinguish.
Above: The tall inflorescence. At each widely space group of flower buds there is a leaf node. Drawing of Chicory courtesy Kurt Stüber's Online Library.
Below: Chicory can have flowers with blue rays (most common) or white rays. Anthers and styles take on the color of the rays.
Below: 1st photo - Anthers and style tip take on the color of the rays. The central receptacle is yellowish and flat. 2nd photo - Flower buds rise from the upper leaf axils.
Below: 1st & 2nd photos - The outer flower head has two series of floral bracts (phyllaries), the inner series longer and wider; both types with surface hair.
Below: 1st photo - The stem leaves have clasping bases, some edge teeth and short hairs on the surfaces and margins. 2nd photo - The leaf underside main rib has longer hair.
Above and Below: The long stalkless basal leaf can be very pinnate as this example shows. The underside has longer hair on the midrib, finer hair on the surface and margins. 2nd photo below - The stem has many angles (ridges) with short stiff hair. Ridges can take on a reddish tint as seen here.
Notes: Chicory is not indigenous to the Garden. Eloise Butler first recorded planting 8 plants on Aug. 8, 1915 but did not list her source for the plants. It was listed on Martha Crone's 1951 inventory of plants in the Garden at that time and has been around ever since. Chicory is a native of Eurasia, now naturalized across the entire United States and the lower Canadian provinces. In Minnesota it is found in the counties of East Central and SE, plus Lake, St. Louis, Rock, Redwood, Norman and Polk - generally around larger population centers. Spreads easily by seeds so beware in the home garden.
C. intybus is the only species of Cichorium found in Minnesota. The only other species in North America is C. endivia, Curly Endive.
Lore: The leaves, like dandelion leaves, can be used as salad greens but are not as tasty as they contain a bitter element. Some Mediterranean cuisines preferred this taste. Cooking in water and then discarding the water reduces the bitterness. The roots are parsnip like and when dried, pulverized and roasted you have the "chicory" which was used as a coffee ingredient or for adulteration of coffee. In former years large quantities were grown in Europe for such purposes. In the United States, Michigan is the largest producer of Chicory. About 65% of the roasted material will be extracted in a solution, compared to under 30% with true coffee. The Chicory root differs from coffee however, in the absence of volatile oils, rich flavor and caffeine. It does contain more soluble extract per unit weight than coffee beans do. Hutchins (Ref. #12) and others report that Chicory tea is good for the stomach, but a number of sources including Tilford (Ref. #39) and Grieve (Ref. #7) report that long term consumption may lead to a visual weakness in the retina of the eye.
References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"