Take a little stroll into the countryside or past any stretch of roadside verge this month and the chances are you will see at least one Dandelion, perhaps many, glowing like little fiery suns amongst the grass stems and the decaying detritus of winter. The social conditioning of a muddled western world tells us to dismiss these blooms as common weeds, but cast away that prejudice, take another look and the brilliant yellow Dandelion is surely as delightful as any native flower this country has to offer.
However, the name Dandelion, comes, not as our title might suggest, from the splendid appearance of the flower, but from the leaf, the serrated edge of which was thought to resemble the teeth of a lion: hence the French ‘Dente-de-Lion’. We prefer our English corruption of the name.
Although Dandelions can be seen in flower during many months of the year, the most prolific blooms occur between March and May, just when many bees and pollinating insects are emerging from hibernation and looking for a good spring feed. How fortunate then that this ubiquitous little flower is laden with pollen and nectar just at the right time.
For humans too the plant is entirely edible and offers copious quantities of vitamins and minerals and it has been used to make wine, salads and medicines. The stem contains a milky latex fluid which has very similar properties to natural rubber, offering great potential for farming and industrial processing.
After the Dandelion has bloomed, the petals dry and fall from the flower head and the bracts beneath pull backwards miraculously revealing a perfect fluffy sphere of seeds, which are a favourite food of goldfinches. If not eaten first, these seeds detach and sail in the slightest breeze, dispersing across the countryside to propagate the plants elsewhere, so that a next generation of bees will have food to feast on in spring.
Once we know all this, calling a Dandelion a weed is something of an insult to one of our most beautiful and ecologically valuable wild flowers.