By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Flowers are much more than a pretty sight on a hillside, or perhaps in a ditch somewhere.

They are the essence of life, and have been used as such for many years.

Take the common sunflower, for example.

It is a marvel of nature, even though it springs up along county roads and in pastures where perhaps even they are less than desirable.

Still, according to Mike Haddock's Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses -- book and website -- nearly every part of this plant can be utilized.

"The seeds can be eaten raw, cooked, roasted or dried and ground for use in bread or cakes," he writes. "The seed and the roasted seed shells have been used as a coffee substitute. Oil can be extracted and used for cooking and soap making."

Yellow dyes have been made from the flowers, while black dyes hail from the seeds.

Residue oil cake can be used as cattle and poultry feed and high quality silage from the plant.

In fact, the "buoyant pitch of the stalk has been used in the making of life preservers," he states.

How safe they might be, I'll leave to someone else to test, but suffice it to say, that's a lot of uses.

The large-headed cultivated sunflowers are derived from a wild sunflower.

Similar uses can be found for many -- but not all -- flowers.

In fact, some are downright troublesome, even deadly.

One, which I was unable to identify two weeks ago, is the chalk lily, or, if you've got a more technical mind, the ten-petal mentzelia.

Those plants are found in the western three-fifths of the state, in dry, rocky hillsides. The prize, if there was one, would go to Jon Hauxwell for his identification of the plant, also known as the candleflower or evening starflower. And he did so quickly.

Renette Saba also offered identification of the plant and excellent photos of the bloom itself, something I was a little too early to capture.

They are among the many plants in the western third of the state that accumulate selenium and can be mildly poisonous. Pretty to look at, they are among the accumulator plants that are generally avoided by livestock, unless they have little else to eat.

They are accumulator plants because they absorb and accumulate selenium, an essential element in tiny doses. However, selenium can be harmful, or perhaps even fatal, if taken in large doses.

But as always, all things must pass and the days of wildflowers, however few might be remaining, soon will end.

Temperatures will drop, most likely suddenly, and the blooms will dwindle. The freezing season is not far away, after all.

Perhaps, with Mother Nature's gentle, giving hands, there will be an even greater blossoming next year.

That will, of course, mean a bit more rain over the course of the next year.

Please?