When I think of spring flowers, daffodils, crocuses, and tulips come to mind, but another early bloomer is the dandelion. I know what you’re thinking, a dandelion is a weed, not a flower, but you’d be mistaken. I’ve never had a hatred for the plant like many do. Likely because every spring, the meadow my childhood home looked down upon was a glorious sea of yellow dandelions. It was (and still is) a sight to behold. Beyond the sunny yellow flower that brings me cheer there are other reasons to embrace the dandelion. Before you arm yourself with a spray bottle of Roundup®, hear me out.
One of the coolest things about the dandelion is that it’s a pioneer species, which means it’s one of the first plants to bring life back to bare ground. It does so by extending its taproot well below the depleted topsoil to mineral-rich subsoils. The plant pulls the minerals through its roots and into its leaves and flowers. When it dies, the nutrients in the plant are made available for the next generation of plants. The taproot also does an amazing job of breaking up hard packed soil. The dandelion plays a critical role in bringing back biodiversity to a damaged ecosystem.
Since dandelions are some of the first flowers to bloom in the spring, their nectar provides an important early food source for bees and other beneficial insects. The dandelion nectar helps bees and other bugs survive until abundant spring flowers come into bloom. By the way, we can’t live without bees, so it’s important we help them by making sure they have plenty of food available to ensure their survival (and ours).
What you may not know is that dandelions have been used for centuries as a healthy food source and for medicinal purposes. Every part of the plant is edible. The roasted root makes an excellent herbal coffee. The greens have a myriad of ways to be used. My parents made dandelion wine from the blossoms, but I’ve also heard the flowers are delicious battered and fried.
Still not convinced you want dandelions growing in your yard? Before you reach for a pesticide (many of which are suspected or known carcinogens) consider plucking their blossoms before they go to seed. Dandelions are short-lived perennials, surviving only two years. Through consistent and thorough flower plucking, you’ll see a decline in dandelions after a couple years. Of course, it requires your neighbors do the same. You can try digging them up, but that’s near impossible since any fragment of the taproot left behind ensures another plant will grow.
Perhaps it’s best to stop fighting the dandelions and let them do their important ecological work of breaking up hard soil and bringing nutrients to the surface that are locked deep below. And lest we forget, dandelion wishes are magical.
I’d like to thank my friend Deborah Lebow Aal for the inspiration and information she provided for this post. Deborah practices permaculture, is studying to be a community forester, and is a docent at the Denver Botanic Gardens.