Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale agg.) get a variable press in Britain.
They are, arguably, beautiful flowers (actually groups of tiny flowers as Dandelions are a member of the Asteraceae family) but my sister wages war on the species as her most hated weed. I guess they can look messy when you have a mixture of flower-head buds, flower-heads, seed heads and old stems that have shed their seeds, but a road-side verge full of golden dandelions has got to be as bold and cheerful a sight in spring as a verge full of golden daffodils!
So why do gardeners hate them so much? Maybe because they are difficult to remove or relocate. Some self-seeding wild flowers make a welcome addition to the garden and are easily removed from the ‘wrong’ place or once they are past their prettiest stage. Not so the dandelion.
The dandelion’s tap root goes extremely deep, enabling it to compete effectively for nutrients and water. But, for some reason, the root is less woody than is general for tap roots, so it readily snaps when pulled. The lower section that remains in the ground, has the ability to regrow even if none of the plant stem material is left behind. A small ring of new shoots develop around the broken root surface and each of these shoots pushes up above ground so that one shoot is now four or five… or seven or eight. That’s why my sister hates them! That and the fact that every amazingly engineered dandelion clock is a ticking bomb of potential new recruits to the population. The seeds will seek out and find the bare soil where weeds have been removed or ground has been prepared for vegetables or chosen flowers.
Children, however, are much more likely to pause in wonder at the bright jewel of the flowers, or enjoy the fun of blowing away the seeds of a clock – even if breaking the stem and getting the white sap on your hands is supposed to make you wet the bed!
How’s this for a child’s-eye view:
Yellow and shining
Fluffy disc of gold upturned
A star in the grass.
Cassie Newbery – aged 11