Dandelion Flowers and Facts: A Cheerful Sign of Spring

Dandelion insect (2)

A dandelion and a visiting insect

Dandelion flowers have opened up where I live, including some on my front lawn. The flowers are a beautiful yellow or yellow-orange colour. The flowers, leaves, and roots of the plant are edible (as long as they are treated properly). The plants often grow where they’re not wanted and are frequently referred to as as weeds. I appreciate the emergence of the flowers, however, especially at the moment. As I’ve said in my recent posts, nature is important to me in the time of the coronavirus. The sight of bright yellow dandelion flowers is a pleasant distraction from other concerns.

The dandelion flowers in my area are proving to be a great attraction for insects. The insects too are part of nature, and often an important one. On a sunny day, it’s interesting to sit on the grass and watch their activity as they explore the flowers. I expect to soon see bees visiting the dandelions. Wild animals and plants know nothing of the coronavirus problem and continue their activities, as spring impels them to do.

Dandelions and insects

Two dandelions with insects

Dandelions have the scientific name Taraxacum officinale. They belong to the family Asteraceae, which is also known as the aster or daisy family. The family’s earlier name of Compositae is sometimes used today. The latter name refers to the composite nature of the flowers, which are technically inflorescences consisting of multiple florets instead of a single flower. The centre florets of many species in the Asteraceae or Compositae family are disk ones and the surrounding florets are ray ones, as in a daisy flower.

A dandelion “flower” (or inflorescence) is a bit different from a daisy one. All of the dandelion’s florets are ray ones. The flowers close in the evening and open in the morning. The flower stems are sometimes red, as can be seen in the photo above.

Dandelion and brooklime

Dandelion and brooklime that I photographed in April last year

The name dandelion come from the French phrase dent-de-lion, which means tooth of the lion. The name refers to the jagged edges of the leaves. The leaves are located at the base of the flower stems, where they form a rosette. They can be eaten raw in salads or cooked as a vegetable or in a soup.

As always when collecting wild plants to eat, it’s vital that a species is identified correctly during a foraging trip. It’s also important that a species is collected from an area that hasn’t been exposed to pesticides or pollutants and that some plants are left to reproduce and in some cases to help wildlife. I often buy dandelion leaves at a nearby farmers market. Some local producers grow the leaves as a crop.

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A dandelion and daisies from last April

The raw leaves taste a little bitter, but they are nutritious. They are very rich in vitamin A and K and a good source of vitamin C. The first two vitamins are fat soluble, so eating a small amount of a healthy oil with the leaves should boost absorption. The leaves are also a good source of calcium, iron, potassium, and manganese. They contain smaller but useful amounts of other nutrients. The leaves act as a diuretic, which is something to keep in mind.

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A crowd of dandelions that I saw last year

The stems of the plant exude a thick and milky latex when they are broken, which I used to enjoy playing with when I was a child. The latex is present in the rest of the plant as well. It coagulates when it’s exuded from the plant. I’ve described dandelion latex and a potential use of the substance in another article that I’ve written.

Dandelions have a taproot, which is a thick and vertical root resembling that of a carrot. Dandelion taproots are smaller than carrot ones, but some people roast them and use them as a coffee substitute. I’ve never tried this myself, but it sounds like it could be quite nice with the addition of spices. I’ve never eaten the flowers of the plant, either.

Dandelion and burdock was my favourite flavour of pop (a carbonated beverage) when I was a child. The maker was Corona, which had no links to the modern beer producer with the same name. Corona pop was a soft drink produced by a manufacturer in South Wales, where I lived as a child. As far as I know, the pop is no longer available under the Corona brand.

dandelionclock

The first dandelion clock that I’ve seen this year

The florets in an inflorescence form a dandelion “clock” once the fruits (or achenes) have forms. Each achene contains one seed.  Hair-like structures at the top of each fruit act as a parachute. The dandelion achene is a special type known as a cypsela. A cypsela has a set of bristles (or a pappus) at the top. Researchers have discovered that the pappus of a dandelion cypsela contains around a hundred filaments. These enable the fruits to drift for a long distance and spread to new areas.

My childhood friends and I enjoyed blowing the fruits into the air. The number of blows required to remove all the fruits was supposed to tell the time. I don’t remember whether the result was ever accurate, but the activity was fun and the sight of the fruits gently drifting through the air was lovely.

Dandelionlast

A flower and a leaf

I loved dandelions as a child and I still do.  I admit that they can be annoying when they are growing where they’re not wanted, especially when their bright yellow flowers can no longer be seen. At this point the leaves alone are not particularly attractive.  Another problem is that the roots grow quite deep and require some effort to remove. Still, I enjoy the sight of the colourful flowers and the attractive ball of fruits. It would be wonderful if by the time all the fruits have been dispersed this year there are significant improvements in the viral pandemic that we are experiencing.

References

  • Taraxacum offinale information from Go Botany, Native Plant Trust
  • More information about the plant from North Carolina State University
  • Nutrients in dandelions from SELF Nutrition Data