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The flower that doesn’t stop

2012 February 9
by Robert

By Ken Moore
Flora Columnist

“Fields of dandelion are like huge cloud rafts floating on a sea of green. Lying back on this flowery bed can become intoxicating, the mind swooning with the fragrance. Dandelions conjure up images of spring, their fresh scents so alluring, drawing one to run barefoot across their faces until the feet are green and yellow striped. It is also the lone flower of sunny winter places, defiantly blooming next to patches of mid-winter snow, always reminding us, even in the coldest times, that there is hope for spring.”

Those words of Tom Brown, Jr. (Tom Brown’s Field Guide: Edible and Medicinal Plants) describe the lowly dandelion far more engagingly than can I.

While still pursuing “winter botany” I pause to note that early spring wildflowers – really winter annuals – like speedwells, henbits and chickweeds have been carpeting lawns and open spots all around town since the early days of January, way, way ahead of their normal appearances.

Most notably in flower is my friend the dandelion, Taraxicum officinale, the cause of grief for folks who prefer uniform green deserts of perfect lawns. It’s regrettable that Ortho products has a commercial that describes the flowering dandelion as the cause of hay fever. That image terrorizes innocent viewers to eliminate those beasts in the lawn with easy-to-apply chemical herbicides.

In reality, dandelion flowers do not produce pollen light enough to waft its way into your nostrils to make you sniffle and sneeze. In fact, for centuries worldwide, the dandelion has been a source of useful herbal medications and healthy food and drink. It’s not difficult to find countless culinary and medicinal uses and recipes. Very popular are tender young leaves, fresh or cooked. Brown’s engaging description of dandelion root coffee encourages me to go foraging across my yard this weekend.

Dandelion is described as a spring bloomer, with occasional flowers observed in every month, but very seldom during the winter months of January and February. But this year you will have noticed it has not taken a winter rest.

Though countless insect pollinators have been observed on the composite heads of 100-plus small ray flowers, the dandelion does not seem to be dependent upon pollinators to produce viable seed. As a child, you most likely played with dandelion seed heads, watching the parachute-adorned seeds soar skyward.

Now, as an adult you are likely to stoop down, pluck one, make certain no one is observing you, and with a strong puff or two, watch, in wonder, those seeds soar skyward.

Looking closely down on a dandelion flower, again I prefer Brown’s description: “The close view of the flower itself creates an image of a fiery yellow explosion that originates from a common green heart. The myriad petals forming the rich golden-yellow crown seem to fire off in every direction, yet in perfect harmony, creating a balance of unity and common understanding.”

How wonderful if human societies could “create a balance of unity and common understanding” like that of a dandelion flower.

Email Ken Moore at Find previous Ken Moore Citizen columns at The Annotated Flora.

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