The dandelion is a perennial plant. Growing best in sunny moist conditions, the hardy plant can be found in multiple climates. Originally from Europe, the dandelion has been used for medicinal purposes since ancient Rome. Because it spreads rapidly, the dandelion is now considered a weed, and can be killed by both chemical and manual means.
The root of the dandelion is the first part to grow. The dandelion's root is a taproot, which means that it is a single long stalk that grows deep into the soil. On average, the root reaches 6 to 18 inches into the soil, but in some instances it can grow as long as 10 to 15 feet. The root is very difficult to remove once it has established itself. Root sections of 1 inch or more in length can establish new plants when separated from the original dandelion.
Leaves emerge in early spring before the dandelion's yellow flowers. The leaves emerge from buds that grow at the top of the root. Dandelion leaves can be eaten by humans and are rich in nutrients like B vitamins. Leaves can be 2 to 14 inches in length and 1/2 to 3 inches wide. The edges of the leaves are serrated, forming a "lion's tooth" pattern from which the dandelion derives its name.
Dandelions are known for their large yellow flowers which grow on stalks that are 2 to 18 inches in height. These flowers can be 1 to 2 inches wide and consist of hundreds of tiny petals. Flowers emerge in the late spring and grow throughout the summer months. In warmer climates, dandelions flower year round. Flowers are usually self-pollinating. Like the leaves, dandelion flowers are also edible and can be eaten in salads or made into traditional dandelion wine.
At the end of the dandelion's growth cycle, seeds emerge from the dandelion flowers, making them appear rounded and silvery white. Only 1/8 inch in size, each seed is tiny and is attached to a bit of parachute-like fluff that allows it to be blown on the wind. Because of this structure, dandelion seeds can travel for miles. The seeding stage lasts for eight to 15 weeks and slows when the weather becomes cold. Seeds will germinate in moist soil that is a temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit, or higher.