The Unassuming Dandelion – by June Imrie

Dandelions are one of my most treasured of wild flowers. They bring a ray of golden sunshine to my garden on a dull day and attract a wide variety of beneficial insects.     The whole plant, including the; roots, leaves and flowers were, and now regaining popularity, used as a versatile culinary delight. It was also known for its powerful healing properties and would often be found in the equivalent of a medieval first aid box.

In ancient times dandelions were seen to represent the three celestial bodies of the sun, moon and stars, with the yellow flower resembling the sun, the seed puff ball the moon and the dispersing seeds the stars. The name Dandelion originates from the French term, ‘dent de lion’, meaning ‘teeth of a lion’. This name has no reference to the flower itself, but honours its jagged edged leaves. However, in my opinion, this unassuming flower is the lion of all wild flora due to its resilience and powerful benefits to all in sundry and continues to survive persecution by many a gardener. Annoyingly for some, and delightfully for others, the dandelion always comes back with gusto whilst cleverly adapting to threats. Just pure genius!

Scientists are becoming more excited about this little gem. The presence of dandelions is a good indicator the soil conditions are low fertility, acidic and densely compact. However, this little yellow, so-called weed, not only plays an important role in attracting pollinators but, facilitates healthy soil development by drawing up minerals, buried deep in the ground, to the surface via its very long tap roots. Dandelions cleverly pollinate themselves, as they are not an assemblance of just one flower, but in fact, a cluster of many little flowers. How cute is that?                                    

With a wry smile and delightful glee, I can see dandelion clusters setting up home in my garden, even though the Scottish weather is ‘blawin’ a hooley’. Their flowers will start to emerge once the temperatures become warmer, and thereafter, the queen bumble bees will rise from their long winters hibernation and gorge themselves on a gourmet meal of dandelion nectar and pollen then fall into a deep slumber on a bed of dandelion as they digest their first meal.

Unfortunately, many a queen bumble bee doesn’t survive after dinning out on dandelions, often due to weed killing herbicides and pesticides sprayed on them and other wild plants. In turn, these chemical cocktails wipe out many offspring, given that she carries many eggs, future generations of bumble bees, and in turn we lose a high number of very important pollinators which impacts on our whole eco system.

But thankfully, we are all learning to live with, and appreciate, the vast benefits of our unassuming dandelion and all other wild flora, which were once deemed as annoying weeds.

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