COMMON DANDELION Taraxacum officinale
The Psalmist rejoices in the beauty of the natural world God has provided. We can easily apply his words to the beauty we anticipate each year in the coming of spring. “The grasslands of the desert overflow; the hills are clothed with gladness” (Psalm 65:12).
This is the most common harbinger of spring. When the winter is mild, the dandelions might start blooming in January. Once they start blooming, they are like medallions of sun shining about us.
Eight different names are used for dandelion, depending on the region or culture group you visit. These common names include blowball, cankerwort, lion’s tooth (after the shape of the leaves, which is the meaning of the common name), priest’s crown, swine snout, and wild endive.
Most children view the dandelion as a yellow delight of the natural world, spreading its joyous sunshine. We adults call it a pest because we want uniform grassy lawns. Of course, we adults overrule the children’s delight and the battle to eradicate the dandelion never ends.
Dandelions have a very long blooming season in the South. During a mild winter, they may bloom all year. The long tap root must be completely dug up before a plant can be successfully eradicated naturally, otherwise a broadleaf herbicide must be applied.
Dandelions are widely distributed. They have been documented in every state and territory of the U.S. and Canada. Yes, even in the Yukon, above the arctic circle. Besides the effects of severe drought on the plant population, dandelions are also adversely affected by soils permeated with salt water and dense shade, as in hardwood forests with heavy undergrowth.
We should be grateful that dandelions are not the pest here that they are up North. As a kid growing up in Omaha, I learned there was a strict code of conduct regarding dandelions. Mother would scold me if I picked a fluff-ball and blew on it to see the “parachutes” float in the wind. People who were known as good neighbors taught their children better manners than that. Of course kids will be kids.
As a very young child, my babysitter introduced me to dandelions with the promise that if I let her show me a trick I would “get some butter.” In my mind, that meant the greasy yellow stuff I put on toast for breakfast. That was not the case. It was a trick. She picked a bloom and rubbed it on my chin. The yellow pollen stuck to my chin like rouge.
During cold weather, the stem holding the bloom is very short. Those I saw earlier last spring were flush with the ground. In hot weather, the soft greenish-white stem may rise 6 inches.
The plant has been useful in spite of its pesky reputation. The young leaves can be picked and boiled as one of the “greens.” Its leaves, before the flowers form, have been squeezed into milk and warmed for a spring tonic. In the fall, the root has been steeped in boiling water as a tea.
Even though the dandelion is a pest in the lawn, I still rejoice with the Psalmist because “… the hills are clothed with gladness.”
Orrin Morris is a retired Baptist minister, local artist and art teacher. To purchase a two-volume set of books featuring his wildflower columns, visit the Nature Seen Gallery & Frame Shop, 914 Center Street in Olde Town Conyers, or call 770-929-3697 or text 404-824-3697. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.