There is far more to the common dandelion plant than meets the eye. What most may view as a noxious weed, an unattractive flower, or a nuisance to a perfect grassy lawn, is actually a plant that is highly beneficial to pollinators, a plant that helps increase soil health, and a plant that has tons of medicinal and nutritional properties as well!
The conception that dandelions are weeds comes from the fact that they are very very good at proliferation. They can be found growing anywhere, from in the cracks of sidewalks, to abandoned lots, to garden beds or mountain meadows.
The taraxacum genus is a large genus of flowering plants in the Asteraceae botanical family, otherwise known as the daisy family. The most common name for this plant is dandelion, though they can also be known by blowball, cankerwort, doon-head-clock, witches gowan, lion’s tooth, Irish daisy, or puffball.
The English term, dandelion, is actually derived from the corruption of the french term “dent de lion”, which translates to lion’s tooth. This is a reference to the coarsely toothed leaves of the dandelion plant.
Since dandelions are so prevalent, not many people would think to incorporate them intentionally into their garden. But if you read on, you’ll surely understand just how beneficial dandelions can be to your edible garden patch.
If you’re looking for a different type of garden plant, something more show-stopping, something that can vine or act as ground cover, head on over to our list of Wonderful Flowering Plants where you will surely find the right match!
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What do Dandelions Look Like?
Dandelions buds appear in the early spring at the base of the rosette of leaves. A dandelion flower is a composite flower head that is called a floret.
The dandelion flower head is a yellow or orange color. They close at night time and open up again to greet the day. Each flower floret is borne singly at the end of a hollow stem. The flower is comprised of many thin and narrow yellow petals that create a rounded brush shape.
Dandelion flowers produce with such vigor and abundance, that they are one of the most important sources of nectar for pollinators in the early springtime.
*In the following section we will cover how dandelion flowers reproduce.
Dandelion leaves are formed as a basal rosette right above the central taproot of the plant. A dandelion leaf is simple in shape with several lobes and notches. They are usually longer than the length of the flower stem, which is only about 4 inches.
The dandelion is a herbaceous perennial plant. Flower heads are borne singly at the end of a hollow and leafless stem that grows about 4 inches from the ground. The stem emerges from a basal rosette of leaves.
Both the stems and leaves of the plant exude a white milky juice when they are cracked or broken. This substance is actually a natural form of latex!
How do Dandelions Reproduce?
Most flowers reproduce with the help of pollinators, where a bee or butterfly brings the pollen of flower to another, resulting in fertilization.
Dandelions are interesting in the way that they reproduce asexually and through apomixis. This means that seeds can grow without pollination, and seeds will carry the exact same genetic material as the parent plant, resulting in a colony of clones.
Flower heads mature into the very recognizable “blow ball”; the rounded flower head that one would pick as a child and make a wish as they blew away all of the fuzzy seed helicopters.
These seeded fruits are actually called achenes. Each achene is attached to fine hair material that carries the dandelion seed by the wind to far-reaching places.
The seed head basically has its own personal helicopter device. This type of reproduction pair with this type of far-reaching dispersal, results in a very successful plant species.
What are Some Dandelion Varieties?
Common Dandelion Plant (Taraxacum Officinale)
A plant that everyone has seen before in their life, the common dandelion. This is a herbaceous perennial plant that is best known for its bright yellow flower heads that turn into silvery tufted seed fruits at the end of the growing season.
They can be found all over the temperate regions of the planet, growing in moist soils in lawns, along roadsides, and along shores and disturbed banks as well.
Red Seeded Dandelion Plant (Taraxacum Erythrospermum)
Different dandelion species look very similar to one another, and one has to look very closely in order to spot the differences. In the case of the red-seeded dandelion plant, the hint is in the name!
The bright yellow flowers carry the same appearance, with the main difference being found in the red/brown seed color, and with leaf lobes growing in more of a triangular shape.
Where do Dandelions Grow?
Dandelions are a prevalent species, and they can be found growing in temperate regions all over the planet. They are native to Eurasia and North America specifically.
Dandelions were introduced to North America from Europe on the Mayflower and have become a naturalized wildflower in every state and province.
Dandelion populations are enormous, and the genus contains thousands of species. This makes for a taxonomically complex species, where botanists must divide them up into 34 macro species, and over 2000 micro species. The British Isles alone have 234 microspecies!
Dandelions have also been around for a very long time. Fossil seed records show that they existed in the same form during the Pliocene era in southern Russia. That’s almost 30 million years ago!
These plants can be found growing in almost any climate condition, any soil type, with any level of sun exposure or water level. They are a remarkably resilient plant and can be found growing on lawns, in orchards and hayfields, as well as along roadsides and in areas that experience a ton of urban pollution.
What are the Growing Conditions of Dandelions?
When it comes to the growing conditions of a wild dandelion, let’s just say there aren’t real conditions. They can truly grow anywhere, as I’m sure you’ve encountered an individual specimen growing right out of a crack on a busy sidewalk.
The following growing conditions are intended for the best results for an edible plant. They can survive almost anything, but there are certain things to be done to help encourage the best-tasting specimens.
Dandelions will perform best in rich and fertile soil. The soil should also be slightly alkaline, anything above a pH level of 7. They perform well in chalky or loamy soil as well, though they must always be well-drained.
The dandelion plant is a water-loving variety and will thank you when receiving regular waterings. Soil should remain moist but not waterlogged.
Dandelions can tolerate any level of sun exposure; full sun, partial shade, or full shade. In order to achieve better tasting young leaves (for salad greens and the like), they should be growing in full shade.
Dandelions are cold hardy up to USDA growing zone 3 through 10.
How can Dandelion be Used?
Every single aspect of a dandelion can be eaten. From roots, stems, leaves, to flowers, this herb is a very healthy green. Raw dandelion greens are delicious, though foliage can be prepared in certain ways to remove a certain level of bitterness. They can be blanched to remove that bitter flavor, or sauteed like you would spinach leaves or swiss chard.
Flower petals can be used to make herbal tea, juices, or traditionally they have been used to make dandelion wine. A traditional British soft drink can also be made using the combination of dandelion and burdock. Dandelion is also a popular addition to different types of honey.
Dandelion roots can be harvested, roasted, and ground to create a caffeine-free alternative for coffee. Dandelion coffee is not only caffeine-free, but it is naturally uplifting due to its high electrolyte count.
Dandelions have been present in human recorded history for thousands of years. Records of medicinal uses of wild plants can be found on 6 continents.
Medicinal dandelion is well cataloged by Ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks. It is also a staple in traditional Chinese medicine as well as herbal medicine used by certain Native American populations.
There are tons of dandelion supplements on the market as well. Dandelion root tea is an excellent source of potassium and electrolytes. Dandelion tea can be consumed daily to help with wakefulness and stress reduction.
Dandelion extract is also a wonderful way to help with one’s skin health, as it has proven to help with skin cell production, effectively delaying aging and inflammation.
The taproot of the dandelion plant is not only beneficial to itself but beneficial to the surrounding community as well. This deep taproot draws up minerals from the earth and secretes them into the soil, which is helpful for shallow-rooted plants.
Companion planting goes further in that when a dandelion dies, those minerals will go back into the soil and improve soil quality. Additionally, these sturdy taproots help aerate packed soils and create entryways for water sources.
Dandelion flower heads can be dried and ground in order to obtain a beautiful yellow shade of natural pigment and can be used for textile dyeing.
What are the Nutritional Benefits of Dandelions?
Dandelion green is very rich in vitamins A, C, and K. It also contains large amounts of calcium, iron, potassium, and manganese.
A single raw dandelion is comprised of 86% water, 9% carbohydrates, 3% protein, and 1% healthy fat. They also contain beneficial phytochemicals and prebiotic fiber inulin.