This is the year of the dandelion, in case you hadn’t noticed. These tenacious bright yellow blossoms, which in almost every culture represent sunshine, happiness and warmth, are more prevalent than they have been in a number of years. The National Dandelion Watchers of America, a nonprofit organization devoted to saving this persistent flower, has determined that very often after a particularly severe winter, this resolute bloom comes back with a vengeance.
The dandelions in my front yard could hardly wait for the snow pile to melt before getting me by the dozen. The Watchers have a well-kept secret concerning the formula they use to count the number of blooms per square foot. But I have yet to see any calculator-carrying flower counters in my yard or the highways or byways I frequent. But since I am from the “old school” they may be using iPads or smart phones with a Dandelion App. (Now that is a more frequent scene. I see a lot of folks walking around just looking at their devices. They may not be tweeting, snapping, friending, browsing, emailing, chatting or texting — they may well be clandestinely tallying these flowers.)
The dandelion is not always revered by the weed-free, golf-course-lawn aficionados. Weed killers have always been a jump-off-the-shelf spring commodity. Of late, there has been an appeal to save the honey bee, since the dandelion is the first flower of the season and the loss of these important florae may well have a serious effect on the diminishing honey bee population. If we indeed lose the honey bees, civilization as we know it may well be part of a global demise.
My granddaughter Malaika’s favorite flower is this sunny, easy-picking bloom. Ever since she could toddle across the yard, she captured handfuls of this most well known of wild flowers. No one ever complained or stopped her from picking too many, and of course, there was a never-ending supply. After dark one evening she was perplexed, as she could not find any dandelions where she had found profuse amounts that very day. I turned on the porch light to show her they were indeed sleeping. This was a fascinating concept for her and I am sure it has been used by harried mothers to send their youngsters to an early bedtime around the world. Yes, the dandy dandelion is growing in every continent of the world; how cool is that.
This flower closes at night to reduce moisture loss, as there are no insect around to pollinate after dark. In the daytime, it is the evaporating nectar that attracts the insects, bees and butterflies, and pollination is simply a byproduct of this action.
The drastic change from a flat bright yellow flower into a white globe-like seed head overnight is one of the wonderful mystifying functions that keeps this courageous flower with a great will to survive, dotting your lawns year after year.
Each seed is equipped with its own parachute to spread it far and wide, easily traveling as many as five miles away. And who hasn’t experienced that moment when they plucked one up and blew that puffball into the wind just to see it fly — hopefully not in the direction of that paranoid dandelion-hating neighbor.
Dandelion greens are the most nutritious leafy vegetable available. They contain vitamins A, C, B and E, have more protein per serving than spinach, are high in calcium and contain lots of minerals and iron. Harvested in the wild, they can be a little bitter. Changing the water a couple of times helps, but enough onions and garlic make it palatable enough. Cultivated greens from the store are less bitter and are readily available.
The dandelion is the only flower that represents the three celestial bodies of the sun, moon and stars. The yellow flower resembles the sun, the seeded puff ball resembles the moon and the blowing seeds resemble the stars.
The name dandelion is taken from the French word “dent de lion” meaning lion’s tooth, referring to the coarsely-toothed leaves.
Every part of the dandelion is useful: the root, leaves and flowers can be used for food, medicine, dyeing and, of course, a great libation: Dandelion Wine, infused with citrus, yup!
Up until the 1800s, people would make room for dandelions in their gardens.
The average American recognizes thousands of logos for commercial products yet recognizes fewer than five plants that grow wild in their area. Dandelions are most likely one of those familiar plants.
Dandelions have one of the longest growing seasons of any plant, one of the best-known wild edibles and most hated lawn weeds.
In the book “Mockingjay,” Suzanne Collins writes, “What I need is the dandelion in the spring. The bright yellow that means rebirth instead of destruction. The promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses. That it can be good again.”
For me and my house, we will enjoy it.
Barbara Buono’s column appears monthly.