Dance of the Dandelion

Anyplace, USA – Across the lawns and meadows, fields and slopes of America, the cheery dandelion is ramping up for the season. Most of us are not happy when we see their bright yellow faces popping up in our yard and consider them an annoying weed. Dandelions don’t last long in my mother’s yard as she pulls them, poisons them and even sprinkles them with salt at times. They have no place in her garden!

However, when we look at them with a child’s eyes, they are pretty little flowers, a member of the daisy family, growing low to the ground ready to be picked and enjoyed.  Even the name is whimsical, coming to us from the medieval Latin, then French… “dent de lion” or “lion’s tooth,” much like the jagged shape of the leaves.  They are common and plentiful and aside from sneezes, do little harm.

The composite flower is quite an intriguing design. Each tiny yellow petal is actually an individual flower (floret) bundled together with up to 200 others. As the cluster of flowers matures, it tightly closes and elongates, then drops into a spectacular sphere of seeds which are easily air lifted by the slightest passing breeze. Watch this amazing time lapse video to marvel at the dandelion’s extraordinary transformation, performed like a ballet on a carpet of green.

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But alas, for the vast majority of people, dandelions have come to symbolize the ultimate fast-moving naughty weed, a sign of an unkept lawn and a failed gardener who has lost control of his/her space of ground. The dandelion is probably the single most widespread residential weed and home owners spend millions of dollars a year on herbicides in an effort to fight it and other unwanted intruders.

As Wonder Trackers, we look for wonder and design no matter the source and in that regard, the dandelion is a perfect specimen.  It is abundant and accessible, entirely edible with no toxic parts and moves through its entire life cycle rapidly, allowing trackers of all ages to watch the wonder of the entire seed cycle unfold in as short as eight weeks, depending on temperature and moisture.

This week, watch the ongoing dance of the dandelions and experience pure wonder.

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Where and When – Widespread during spring and summer, then become dormant in the fall. If you plan to eat them, be sure you find dandelions in areas that are not sprayed with pesticides or herbicides. Spring is the best time to gather leaves when they are tender and sweet, as they become very bitter as the leaves age. Flowers are fun to sprinkle on foods or add to pancakes, muffins or other baked goods. Even though it is edible, the base of the flower is bitter, so pass on that part.  For more information on harvesting dandelions, read a great article by Wild Foods and Medicines. Remember to use caution and make sure you have correctly identified any plant you eat. Think about potential allergies and issues specific to you and your family.

Wonder Triggers for Young Trackers

  • Find a dandelion plant and examine it.  Can you find all the parts – leaves, stem, flower and/or seeds, roots? Can you find dandelions that are in different stages of growth in the same area? How are they different?
  • Pull an entire dandelion plant and carefully study each part.  Dissect the flower to see how it is designed. Do you notice a white fluid in the stems? What do you think that is?  It is actually latex, the ingredient used to make rubber. Scientists are working with dandelions to produce a non-irritating rubber that can be used in products we use. Imagine driving down the road on dandelion tires! Can you think of other ways we might be able to use the rubber produced from dandelions?
  • Find a dandelion that has “gone to seed.” How many seeds do you think make up the puff ball (capitulum)? Use a magnifying glass to study the individual seeds. What do they look like and what is the purpose of each part of the seed? Do you see the little fluffy parts at the top of each seed?  What do you think it does for the seed?
  • Time Lapse Observation – Photographers have a technique that they call time lapse photography.  They take a picture of something every few minutes/hours/days, then put the photos together to watch what happened over time.  Can you watch one dandelion plant at the same time every morning and night for a few days or weeks to see how it changes?
  • Have you ever eaten a flower? If you have eaten broccoli or cauliflower, then you have eaten florets, which are tiny flowers all gathered together into a what looks like a larger flower.  The yellow petals of a dandelion are also florets and can be eaten.  Think of foods you can sprinkle them on… Ice cream? Cereal? Salad? Don’t sprinkle too many!

References and Resources

Nature North

Hunker – How long does it take for Dandelions to go to seed?

US Wildflower’s Database

Wild Foods and Medicines – Dandelion

Images – Sharon Pegany – Copyright 2018

 

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