The common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) blooms year round in areas with warm winters. Elsewhere, this edible perennial goes dormant in winter. Whether an abundance of dandelions is good or bad depends on their location and a person's perspective about the plant. Although considered a nuisance in lawns, dandelions are becoming a desirable and expensive salad green as well as a focus of research related to the tire industry.
Dandelions don't have real stems. Their seedlings develop into a rosette of leaves on the soil's surface and produce flowers on hollow stalks. The flowers bloom about eight to 15 weeks after germination at the end of the seedling stage. Individual plants bloom continuously while active, but most profusely in May and June. A single flower produces up to 400 seeds, but averages 180. Seeds ripen from nine to 12 days after the flowers bloom. The Garden Organic website notes that about 90 percent of the seeds germinate. As to the plant's tenacious tap root, the University of California Integrated Pest Management program notes that it can grow 15 feet long, but is usually 6 to 18 inches deep.
History and Background
Immigrants on the Mayflower, brought the common dandelion to the New World in the 1600s. They valued its bright yellow blossoms, edibility and use as a folk remedy for problems including indigestion. The plant gets its name from the French phrase "dent de lion," which means "tooth of the lion" and refers to the jagged indentations of its leaves. Based on its ability to grow everywhere from the Arctic Circle to sub-Antarctica, the dandelion is one of the world's most successful flowers. Despite being maligned for blooming where homeowners and turf managers don't want it, the dandelion is also blooming commercially.
U.S. consumers bit into $2 million of fresh dandelion greens in a one-year period ending in March 2009, according to "The Wall Street Journal." Roots of the Russian dandelion (T. kok-saghyz) may become increasingly expensive as research continues on turning the plant's latex into rubber. The global tire industry is focusing on studies by Ohio State University, Canada's University of Guelph and Germany's University of Munster.
Although they germinate best at around 77 degrees Fahrenheit, dandelions adapt to the chilliest of climates. On South Georgia Island -- south of Chile -- which averages about 49 degrees Fahrenheit during its warmest month of February, dandelions are a non-native species. They are spreading and can even be found growing on the grave of South Pole explorer Ernest Shackleton. While some South Georgians appreciate them as additions to salad, researchers of the British Antarctic Survey worry about them becoming invasive.
- University of California Integrated Pest Management Program; Dandelions; 2006
- Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association; Ten Things You Might Not Know About Dandelions; Anita Sanchez; 2007
- The Wall Street Journal; It's Salad Days for Weeds; Anne Marie Chaker; 2009
- Discovery News; Dandelion Rubber Could Replace Rare Sources; Eric Bland; 2008
- Garden Organic: Dandelion
- Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew: South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands
- Trek Earth: Shackleton's Grave
Alicia Rudnicki's Library Mix website blends book buzz for all ages. A gardener, she writes for California's Flowers by the Sea nursery. She has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from UC Berkeley, a Master of Arts in education from CU Denver, and has taught K-12.