Roadside Flowers - U of I Extension

News Release

Roadside Flowers

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

July 19, 2018

Have you noticed the plants blooming along our roadsides? Although many farmers and gardeners consider these plants as weeds, they do add color and interest to our Illinois roadsides.

Chicory 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. I think the chicory flower shade of blue is one of the most beautiful in our plant world. The roots are sometimes used as a coffee substitute or additive. The Café Du Monde in New Orleans is famous for its beignets and coffee-chicory blended coffee.

Red clover’s purple flower often blooms along the roadways. Red clover has one-inch wide magenta or purple flower heads at the top of 6 to 24-inch tall plants. This is a three-leaf clover, with leaflets blotched in white. As most of you know, 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 in full bloom 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 cluster of tiny cream-white flowers. Each flower has one dark flower at the center. Although attractive, this biennial plant is considered a troublesome weed. This edible plant is the ancestor of the garden carrot. However, be careful since some close relatives are very poisonous, including poison hemlock and wild parsnip.

In many areas, bright yellow Jerusalem Artichoke makes a spectacular show in late summer into fall. This sunflower has a yellow, three-inch flower and can grow five to ten feet tall. Native Americans cultivated this large, coarse sunflower for its edible tuber.

Some roadside plants are not a welcome sight, and many are on the Illinois noxious and exotic weed lists. Unfortunately, we still see them everywhere.

Musk thistle and ragweeds are noxious weeds in Illinois. Musk thistle has a beautiful purple flower head, but it will quickly take over as it spreads. Ragweeds are noxious within towns because the pollen released by their inconspicuous green flowers cause severe allergies in some people. Teasel was added to the Illinois exotic weed list in 2015 and is found in large numbers along roads across the state.

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

For more information, view my YouTube videos on Roadside Flowers and Dangerous Wild Carrots at go.illinois.edu/ilriverhortvideos.

Source: Rhonda J. Ferree, Extension Educator, Horticulture, ferreer@illinois.edu

Pull date: September 1, 2018