The sor­did tale of the dan­de­lion

Ontario Gardener Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Tania Mof­fat

Noth­ing up­sets lawn and gar­den en­thu­si­asts more than to look across a yel­low sea of flow­ers flour­ish­ing in their lawns and flower beds. The dan­de­lion has been the bane of al­most every gar­dener and prop­erty owner across North Amer­ica for over a cen­tury, but it wasn’t al­ways this way.

Be­fore the ar­rival of the first set­tlers there wasn’t a sin­gle dan­de­lion in what would be­come North Amer­ica. The dan­de­lion ven­tured across the oceans with the early Euro­peans and not by ac­ci­dent. They were a vi­tal food and medic­i­nal crop. Be­lieve it or not, they were once fenced in to pre­vent wildlife from de­stroy­ing them and grass was dili­gently re­moved from around the plants.

Alien in­va­sion

Dan­de­lions ( Tarax­acum of­fic­i­nale) have been grow­ing in Eura­sia for some 30 mil­lion years. These flow­er­ing herba­ceous peren­ni­als and bi­en­ni­als are part of the fam­ily Aster­aceae ( Com­posi­tae). This fam­ily con­sists of a wide range of flow­er­ing plants such as asters, daisies and sun­flow­ers.

Dan­de­lions are per­haps the most suc­cess­ful plants world­wide. They have an amaz­ing abil­ity to adapt and sur­vive. If you cut your lawn low to rid your­self of dan­de­lions, they will just grow closer to the ground. When their habi­tat is dis­turbed they will pro­duce more seeds than they do nor­mally. Each flower can pro­duce be­tween 50 to 175 seeds, and in one sea­son a sin­gle plant can pro­duce be­tween 2000 and 5000 seeds! They are hardy plants and will be some of the first plants to pop­u­late dis­turbed ground or ap­pear af­ter a wildfire.

The seeds are dis­persed by the wind and can travel up to eight kilo­me­tres. Dan­de­lions seeds do not re­quire pol­li­na­tion to be vi­able nor do they re­quire cold to ac­ti­vate ger­mi­na­tion. In fact, the seeds can go dor­mant for years. One study dis­cov­ered nine year old seeds that were still vi­able!

The dan­de­lion is a prime ex­am­ple of how in­tro­duc­ing an alien species into a new ecosys­tem can go awry. It did not take long for those first plants to jump the gar­den fence and take over the sur­round­ing lands, spread­ing across the con­ti­nent.

Su­per­plant

There is a pos­i­tive side to these ma­ligned weeds. Not only are they ed­i­ble, they are a ver­i­ta­ble su­per-food, rich in fiber and filled with es­sen­tial min­er­als such as potas­sium, folic acid and magnesium. Dan­de­lions have more

iron than spinach and more Vi­ta­min A than car­rots. A half cup of dan­de­lions con­tains more cal­cium than a glass of milk and 55 mg of leaves have 535 per cent of your daily vi­ta­min K in­take.

The leaves are used for sal­ads and cooked in soups or as greens sim­i­lar to the way spinach is used. With a slightly bit­ter flavour that in­ten­si­fies as the plant ages, leaves are best en­joyed when they are young in the spring and early sum­mer months. Sweet and crunchy, the flow­ers are ed­i­ble too. They can be eaten raw, breaded and fried, or used for mak­ing tea, beer, wine or dyes. The long tap root that is so dif­fi­cult to re­move from the ground, can ex­tend to a depth of 15 feet! Roots are an ex­cel­lent root veg­etable that when dried can be used to make a cof­fee­like drink. Be­fore you go for­ag­ing, be care­ful to only pick plants that have not been ex­posed to chem­i­cals or are lo­cated near road­sides.

This es­sen­tial plant has been used ex­ten­sively for medic­i­nal pur­poses for thou­sands of years. Dan­de­lions are di­uret­ics, which is how they re­ceived their name pis­senlit or “pee the bed”. The leaves are used to re­lieve con­sti­pa­tion and give one the sense of feel­ing full (great for di­eters). They can be used to cleanse the body from tox­ins, and con­tain es­sen­tial min­er­als like folic acid and magnesium.

Most re­cently dan­de­lions are be­ing tri­alled to cre­ate rub­ber prod­ucts such as tires; the re­search is on­go­ing. So while they are cer­tainly not a favoured plant, they are use­ful.

Grow­ing and grow­ing

To­day dan­de­lions are so pro­lif­er­ous that they can blan­ket en­tire lawns chok­ing out the grass and slow­ing the growth of gar­den plants. Peo­ple have been ap­ply­ing her­bi­cides such as RoundUp to de­stroy this un­sightly weed for years. While this her­bi­cide or sim­i­lar prod­ucts are still in use in some com­mu­ni­ties, mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and prov­inces across the coun­try are ban­ning the use of these dan­ger­ous chem­i­cals for cos­metic pur­poses (your lawn and gar­den). This means that the plants are left largely to their own de­vices and spread far­ther.

While this is up­set­ting to many, dan­de­lions are a wel­come sight for pol­li­na­tors. The pesky yel­low flow­ers are some of the first spring blooms, pro­vid­ing much needed sus­te­nance af­ter a long win­ter. Maybe in­stead of spray­ing this year, re­move your chem­i­cal free dan­de­lions and use them for din­ner? It's just a thought.

Dan­de­lions have one of the long­est flow­er­ing sea­sons of any plant and are of­ten one of the first flow­ers of spring.

Each dan­de­lion flower can pro­duce any­where be­tween 50 and 175 seeds.

Dan­de­lion leaves make ex­cel­lent sal­ads and taste great in stir­frys.

Dan­de­lions are said to re­sem­ble the three plan­e­tary bodies. Yel­low flow­ers rep­re­sent the sun, the fluffy white seed heads the moon, and the seeds the stars in the sky.

The name dan­de­lion is taken from the French word “dent de lion” mean­ing lion’s tooth, re­fer­ring to the coarse­ly­toothed leaves.

Dan­de­lion flow­ers close up at night.

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