When the poet Emerson said, “A weed is plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered,” he had to be talking about dandelions.
There is a yellow symbolism and science in dandelion behavior. Dedicated gardeners with trowels in hand about to attack the broad expanse of yellow manes waving in the wind, will argue that the dandelion’s virtues will forever be undiscovered because there are none. Determined lawn owners grubbing up dandelion roots with about 300 to go, mutter darkly about dousing the buttery blossoms with weed killer instead of looking for their virtues.
Admirers of free spirits appreciate the dandelion as an individual in its own right. They accept it as a flower-weed that leaves its imprint on the heart and mind as well as on the lawn. Even the name “dandelion” is poetic. Dandelion comes from the French, “dent de lion”, which means tooth of the lion.
Some people think that the dandelion’s jagged leaves look like lion’s teeth, hence the name dandelion. Others think its yellow flowers resemble lion’s teeth more. It’s not difficult to imagine a tawny lion sitting in the middle of a field of dandelions, his mane and teeth stained yellow from sniffing, eating, blowing and rolling in dandelions.
Dandelions Have a Scientific Family Tree
The dandelion’s family tree is scientific as well as French. The dandelion is a perennial that blooms in the spring and the summer throughout the temperate zone of planet earth. Its roots can extend from four to five feet deep into the ground, perhaps even as far as China or Australia!
The blossom of the dandelion is actually a bouquet of about 150-200 flowers set in a solid head. Each flower is a perfect seed-producing unit. Speaking of producing, dandelions produce a milky juice in its plants which supplies latex or natural rubber. A Russian dandelion called Kok-Saghyz gives the best latex yield of all dandelions.
Dandelions behave differently at night than they do in the day time. Their heads close up tightly as soon as the sun goes down, which gives a sort of yellow symbolism to their behavior. On dark days when pollinating insects don’t fly, dandelion heads also remain closed. Later in the season when the flowers are fertilized, the heads bend downward to the ground where they lie protected until the seeds are ripe. Then the flower stalks become erect, the heads open again, and the parachutes on the seeds expand.
The dandelion is a world traveler. Its seeds form hundreds of tiny parachutes that float away on the wind to land in the next field – or Africa. Dandelion seeds have traveled in hay used for packing. The seeds reach foreign lands in ships and once ashore, adapt themselves to whatever climate and soil they encounter.. Dandelion seeds can soak in the ocean for 28 days, be carried a thousand miles along the coast, and still germinate.
Dandelions Embrace Reality and Thrive
Despite the reality of a dandelion’s life, it manages to thrive. Its bitter taste causes moles, rabbits, and insect grubs to avoid it. The rosette of leaves is also very bitter, so bitter that grazing animals don’t gobble it along with their grass. No matter how many times a determined lawn owner uproots the dandelion, back it grows unless its tap root is yanked from deep in the cold, clingy spring ground.
The flower stalks of the dandelion employ the principles of hollow tube construction. Engineers say this is the strongest and most economic material and the dandelion is living proof of this statement. Even the strongest winds fail to snap off a dandelion stem. Its breaking point comes when tiny, stained fingers snap it off its stem to become part of a mason-jar kitchen table bouquet for mother.
Legend has it that the Apache Indians like the dandelion so much for food that they hunt the countryside to find it and stuff themselves to the brim with dandelion blossoms. Dandelion sprouts are used as a pot herb, its leaves as a salad and it dried roots as a substitute for coffee. In the spring time of the year for numerous years, elderly ladies with wicker baskets on their arms and eager children with tin cans have gathered dandelion blossoms to make dandelion wine. What could be better after a suitable expenditure of sugar, yeast and time than on a bitterly cold winter day to sip the golden taste of sunshine?
Dandelions Are Courageous and Cheerful
Dandelions are a sure thing in this uncertain world. We can be certain that they will grow and thrive every year, and we know with equal certainty that we will do everything in our technological power to prevent them from conquering our lawns and gardens. We also know with equal certainty that none of our prevention will make a dent and they’ll be back as surely as taxes.
On the other hand, it’s impossible not to have a grudging admiration for the courage of the dandelion. It does, indeed, thrive on adversity and manages to nod its cheerfully oblivious head in the spring breeze, its roots firmly planted in the garden and lawn that was doctored with dandelion destroyer just last week.
It is impossible to stay angry at the dandelion. It’s too free-spirited, brave, adventurous, too appealing to the romantic in us. And it’s permanent. People change, but dandelions don’t. There’s a lot of comfort and science and hope in a dandelion.
Weeds: Friend or Foe, Sally Roth, Reader’s Digest, 2002
Down-to-Earth Natural Lawn Care, Dick Raymond, Storey Communications, 1993
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