Monday, July 07, 2008

Cleveland Blooms

Summer brings explosions of color to the night skies as fireworks light the neighborhoods of Cleveland in the weeks before and after Independence Day celebrations. The sidewalks and abandoned lots of the city explode in their own brilliant displays during the month of July when weeds become wildflowers.

The sky blue blossoms of the chicory plant have been a favorite of mine since I was a child. I've read that our ancestors used it as a natural, botanical time piece since the flowers open and close at precisely the same time every day. The young leaves can be gathered in spring for salad, the older leaves cooked, and the roots dried, roasted and ground to blend with coffee. The Romans prescribed it as medicine specifically for liver ailments, and herbalists have used it as a diuretic, a laxative, an anti-inflammatory, a poultice, and boiled it up to make a tonic for just about anything else that might ail you.

Chicory grows best in hostile environments where few other plants survive. It can reach a height of six feet, but will still bloom after repeatedly being mowed an inch or two from the ground. This is a plant that can take a lot of abuse. It is very inconspicuous in the spring, it's leaves easily mistaken for dandelion. Around the first of July rough, stiff, angular stems shoot out from the base of leaves growing almost before your eyes. Tiny brown buds along the woody stem burst open like stars, the color of a perfect summer sky.

If Cleveland were to choose a flower that would symbolize the city and it's people, I would cast my vote for the tough, beautiful, persistent, healing, prolific, die-hard wild flower - the chicory. We have so many things in common
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