• Fiona Ferguson

A Shouting Flower

Updated: Jun 4, 2019

We are currently at the height of Dandelion season – a flower both reviled and revered.

Poet Emily Dickinson called it the “shouting flower” whose arrival heralds the end of winter. There is certainly nothing quiet about the Dandelion whose worst crime appears to be not blending into the “green concrete” of modern lawns.

Technically - it is a flowering herbaceous perennial plant which grows in temperate regions of the world. It is native to Europe and Asia and was first introduced to America, where it now also flourishes, as a food crop. European fossils records featuring this hardy plant go back to glacial and interglacial times.

Practically - it is considered by most to be a weed – some countries go so far as to demonize it officially as a noxious weed. In some parts of the United States and Canada you can actually be fined for not taking action to remove dandelions from your lawn. They are thought to be unsightly and a sign of neglect as well as perhaps an indication of impending urban decay and lawlessness.

The last time many of us took much notice of dandelions would have been in our childhoods when they enticed us to aid them in their takeover of our parent's lawns by blowing their snowball of seeds and sending the tiny parachutes far and wide.

It is estimated that there are between 54 and 172 seeds per head and a single plant can produce 5,000 seeds a year, which spread up to several hundred meters from the parent plant. According to Wikipedia – for what that's worth - a dense stand of dandelions can produce 97 million seeds per hectare.

The dandelions secret to success and what makes it practically impossible to eradicate is its long tap root which penetrates deep into the soil. Leaving even a little of the root behind will allow the plant to regenerate. In fact if it breaks into several pieces it will regenerate into several plants!

My interest in this tenacious little plant blossomed after I took up beekeeping – dandelions are an important nectar source for bees in early spring when not much else is in flower – it can be make or break for a hive in a bad year.

Several years later I feel like a broken record extolling the virtue of Dandelion's to anyone who will listen!

It is not only bees – honey bees and crucially our struggling populations of wild bees – who benefit from Dandelions. Birds, especially finches and sparrows in my experience, will eat the nutritious seed head.

Photo Credit: Irene Bermingham

The greens or leaves which can be harvested and used in salads or cooked. They have a slightly bitter taste apparently but are a good source of beta cartone, vitamin C, calcium and Iron.

The flowers can be made into a wine, jam or a sweet syrup. Dandelion coffee can even be made from the ground root of the plant.

The plant has also been used in traditional medicine mainly for digestive disorders. Another old wives tail - the milky sap that comes out when the stem is cut was traditionally put on warts.

Practical suggestion for your garden – Leave the mowing the lawn until after the seed heads appear. That will stop them from taking over but still allow our pollinators to get that important first flow of nectar to kick start the year.

I would encourage you to go further and leave the seeds heads for the birds, every little gesture you can make towards making your garden more wildlife friendly will be rewarded in spades by the creatures who will be attracted to your patch.

So make room for them in your garden and maybe on your plate if you are feeling adventurous!

The Dandelion’s pallid tube Astonishes the Grass, And Winter instantly becomes An infinite Alas—
The tube uplifts a signal Bud And then a shouting Flower,— The Proclamation of the Suns That sepulture is o’er.
Emily Dickinson.

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