Roadside attractions in bloom
If you live in the suburbs or if you have the opportunity to drive along country roads, I hope you take the time to enjoy the varieties of colors and species of wildflowers growing along the highways and byways.
Many of them are listed as invasive, but they tend to brighten up my travels from home to local destinations.
The majority of the white flowers growing at the shoulder of area roads at this time of the year are Queen Anne's lace. This member of the parsley family is also commonly called wild carrot. The flat-topped, lacy, off-white flowers often contain a single dark purple floret in the center.
Native American women and children painstakingly collected these tiny individual florets to use as a dye. The florets were the only source of that particular shade of purple found in the area. You can check out this attractive purple hue by picking one of the dark florets from the middle of a Queen Anne's lace flower head and crush it against one of your fingernail.
Queen Anne's lace, although widespread, is not native to the United States. This plant, like many other wildflowers, is an introduced species from Europe, probably from the Mediterranean area.
The biennial produces the familiar green feather-like carrot foliage during the first year. This foliage dies off as the first frosts arrive. The white root survives the winter to produce new foliage and the familiar white flowers during the second year of growth. It is considered one of the worst European-introduced weeds.
Queen Anne's lace, like many other plants in the parsley family, is a host plant for larvae of the black swallowtail butterflies. The larvae, also known as caterpillars, are green with black markings.
Collecting a few black swallowtail butterfly caterpillars is a good activity to do with children. Place the caterpillars in a fairly large closed but airy container with enough host foliage to satisfy their appetites.
The caterpillars will each form a chrysalis and after several weeks emerge as beautiful adult butterflies. The butterflies are very tame at this time and will usually sit on your finger until you release them into the yard.
It is a great way for children to witness a miracle of nature up close and personal. Be sure to handle the butterflies gently. Do not touch their wings. The wings are made up of tiny scales that can be damaged if handled. Improper handling might also prevent the butterfly's ability to fly.
The oxeye daisy, also commonly called field daisy, is another white flower found growing in abundant clusters in fields and along area roadsides. The one- to two-foot-long stalks are topped with white-rayed flowers. The 15 to 30 narrow rays spread out from a yellow center. The petals are edible, but not very tasty.
One of my Penn State professors in a parks and recreation and department course, told the class that if you add the daisy petals to a peanut butter sandwich, the petals take away the sticky tendency of the peanut butter to coat the inside of your mouth. I tried it and it worked.
The blue chicory flower is another species of wildflower that is difficult to miss as you drive on highways at this time of the year. The chicory flowers are open for only one day.
The flower heads are about one and a half inches across with squared, fringe-edged petals. The leaves at the base are very similar to that of the dandelion, but the leaves growing along the stems are smaller. It grows from a long, deep taproot.
The roots can be roasted, ground and used in place of coffee or as a coffee additive. According to Euell Gibbons' book, "Stalking the Wild Asparagus," the plants growing along local road shoulders are the same plants that are imported by the tons each year to be used as a coffee additive.
Chicory grows to a height of 1- to 4-feet-tall. It blooms from June to October. The basal leaves can be used in salads in the same way as dandelion. Be sure to gather the leaves before the flowers appear. Dig parallel along the taproot to gather the sweeter tasting white underground leaves.
The majority of yellow flowers mixed in with Queen Anne's lace, oxeye daisies and chicory are hawkweed flowers. There are about 50 hawkweed species. They prefer dry clearings, pastures and roadsides.
The flowers grow on the top of 1- to 3-feet-high unbranched, hairy stems. Flowers vary from yellow to orange to reddish colors. The stem grows from the center of a rosette of hairy basal leaves.
During a recent rural trip to purchase a new birdfeeder from the Mill at Germansville, I was admiring the colorful bounty of wildflowers growing at the edge of the road shoulders.
Several miles from my destination, I passed the local municipality's roadside edge-cutter. Its naked steel arm was reaching out, ripping and cutting the wildflowers and whatever additional vegetation was covering the shoulder and the bank.
As I returned home from the mill nothing remained along the roadside but clumps of wilted foliage. The road edge looked horrible.
I've often wondered if it's really necessary to spend tax dollars to trim the road edges. Do these 3- to 4-feet-tall plants actually create a safety hazard?
I recommend cutting areas where it is necessary for safety such as crossroads and sharp turns, but allow other road edges to grow and flourish. This will also free up the driver's time to concentrate on more important work issues.
That's the way I see it!
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