Chicory (Cichorium intybus), perhaps more familiar today in cultivated forms as the edible greens Endive and Radicchio, but a historically significant coffee substitute or adulterant. The browning properties of ground chicory root made it a useful extender of scarce or expensive coffee during economic crises or import shortages, and some drinkers claimed to prefer the taste.
Victoria of the 1840s and 1850s assessed duty on imported chicory in line with coffee, a stance that would have encouraged its early commercial planting in suitable soil regions. It was also popular as a grazing forage crop, a practice brought to Australia by English and Scottish graziers. A broadly distributed Eurasian native, the plant was recorded naturalised in Victoria from 1907 with a collection at Yarrawonga on the Murray, and from 1918 in the Melbourne area at Werribee.
Despite those dates, Chicory was likely established here earlier, as it was being reported on in the popular press as a weed in WA, SA and Tasmania by that time. Although recognised as a weed, opinions differed on whether this was a problem, with the debate perhaps hinged upon whether one was a cultivator or a grazier. As one Perth columnist wrote at the time, from a position firmly in the stockman’s camp on this subject, ‘I do not think there is any danger of chicory being a noxious weed in Western Australia, and would rather encourage than try to prevent its spreading in the fields’ (Western Mail, Perth, 1910).
Broadly distributed in Victoria, this kerbside bouquet is a relatively rare sight in well-mown Melbourne, and more common up in the state’s north, particularly around Shepparton where presumably there is a history of commercial cropping. A weed of lawn edges, roadsides, cropping fields and other disturbed places, at the right opportunity Chicory can also apparently become an invader of disturbed grassland and woodland settings.