15 things to know about the sunny little invasive
April 5 is Dandelion Day! For some, a day of celebration. For others, not so much. But no matter which side of the dandelion fence you land on, here are some notions to ponder while you consider your position on the broad-leafed, yellow-flowered, rather fulsomely seedy plant.
- The dandelion is part of the genus Taraxacum, a member of the Asteraceae family. The common dandelion, or Taraxacum officinale is the most well known and abundantly recognized variety.
- What’s the second best-known dandelion? Glad you asked. The runner-up is Taraxacum erythrospermum, or red-seeded dandelion).
- “Dandelion” is an English adaptation of the French dent de lion or “lion’s tooth”, in reference to the plant’s toothy leaves.
- Called by some a weed, and known to be an invasive species, it’s formally described as a herbaceous perennial (as opposed to woody).
- Its flower head is actually a densely packed mass of small florets (ray flowers). A single flower head can contain as many as 200 florets.
- Dandelion seeds can fly very far indeed — up to 100 kilometers as proved by a study done in 2018 at the University of Edinburgh.
- The dandelion is a perennial plant that can grow for five to ten years (but you knew that already, probably).
- Dandelions are a non-native species in Canada and much of the United States. They were originally imported from Europe as a food crop.
- You can eat the full plant, root, flower, leaves and all. The dandelion root can be dried and made into tea, and the leaves and flower heads can be eaten raw or cooked. You can also make dandelion wine using the flower heads. The recipe we found called for 16 cups of flowers, so that could get rid of quite a few from your lawn.
- They’re nutritionally good for you — antioxidant-rich and chock-full of vitamins and minerals such as vitamins A, C and K, folate, calcium and potassium.
- Dandelions have medicinal benefits — studies have shown they may help with blood sugar management, and they may be beneficial to skin, liver and heart health.
- They provide an early spring source of pollen for bees — although, more usefully for honey bees than native/wild bees.
- They’re considered to be a decent food source for native pollinators, but not optimally beneficial. Native bees and other insects like wasps and flies are incredibly important to the ecosystem and provide most of our environment’s pollination services. So, while it’s good to leave dandelions for pollinator food, it’s an even better idea to research native species for your area and plant those, to attract and feed native pollinators and benefit the ecosystem.
- Dandelions are invasive, so you may be tempted to control them with chemicals. But, this, too, is harmful to pollinators (not to mention the environment in general). To control dandelions naturally, if you have a lawn, don’t cut your grass shorter than five centimeters — the shorter your grass is, the more light will be allowed in for dandelions to grow.
- Or, pull them, early in the season, and when the soil is wet. The best tool we’ve found for removing them (long tap root and all) is a forked digger like this one. (Yes, we speak from experience.)
So, that’s our sunny nod to Dandelion Day. We’ll leave you with an even sunnier thought — if you’ve spotted bumblebees on your dandelions, submit your sighting! You’ll be taking part in a North American initiative to track a pollinator in decline — and perhaps be part of its recovery.