Derek – Friday 24th April 2020

There are dandelions in the garden. Which brings up the perennial query, what is a weed? The common answers are: a plant you don’t want, or a plant in the wrong place. A personal answer, either way. So I’ll give my answer; I like dandelions, so they are not weeds. They are wild flowers.

I am sure if I showed today’s photo and asked, ‘Do you like Taraxacums?’ I’d probably get mostly affirmatives. Taraxacum has a beautiful yellow flower and a long season too. Is it so different from an aster or a chrysanthemum?

Point made, or not made, re Taraxacum officinale, as I said this is personal, so let’s return to the folk name. Dandelion comes from the French for lion’s tooth (dent-de-lion). The name refers to the deep indents in the jagged, spear-like leaves, reminiscent of lion’s teeth. But the French name for dandelion is pissenlit (less commonly called dent-de-lion). As a kid, I was told if you picked one you’d wet the bed, and believed it as a six year old. So here’s a flower taking us, via childhood, back to medieval times and our intermingling languages.

Once the dandelion flower has died, you get the bonus of the dandelion clock, beloved by children who blow the parachutes, each with a single seed, to settle wherever the wind allows. I grant it’s a poor timepiece, though being an early flower it is useful to sustain pollinators such as bees until later spring flowers bloom.

Dandelions belong to a widespread family *Asteraceae* (or *Compositae)* which includes asters, daisies, dandelions and hawkweeds, and sunflowers. Each single flower head has many florets. Each floret is a simplified flower in itself. The seeds, each hanging from the helicopter when blown free, are produced without pollination, and so any single plant is identical to all the others, that is they are clones. This is annoying to plant classifiers as each clone set can be seen as a different species, but we’ll go no further down that bewildering track.

Dandelion leaves can be eaten cooked or raw and are a good source of vitamins A, C and K. During the war, dandelion root was made into a coffee substitute. I haven’t tried it, but here’s the recipe. The tap root is best dug up in late summer, as mature roots are said to be better. But if you have a long lived one, try that. You only want the root, so save the leaves for a salad. Give the root a good scrub. Then roast it for an hour or so in a hot oven. An alternative, perhaps, is to cut the root into thin strips and toast it under the grill. Then grind. And make your coffee.

We did our regular video walk on Wednesday. The walk centres on the trees in the garden but picks out a few flowers too, though not dandelions. Here’s the link:

Near the silver birch is a perennial stock with many white, cruciform flowers. It has the strongest scent, reminiscent of talcum powder. The buddleia is 6 to 8 feet high, the tunnel roofing over nicely. I see a couple of cabbage white butterflies fluttering through. Too early. There won’t be flowers until June.

Comments 1

  1. Thank you Derek and Kevin for the garden videos. A good record for us while the garden is so sadly closed. But nature just carries on!

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