The Art of Nature: Dandelion Blooms

We’ve got a love-hate relationship with dandelions, don’t we? If you’ve ever owned a lawn or been around a lawn-owner who gives a shit about grass, you’ve either personally attempted or seen someone attempt to eradicate the no-good very-bad terrible dandelions in it. The circular sprays of leaves seem like particularly wicked saw-blades. Grass-murderer! Lawn defiler! Diiiieeee!!!!

But when they bloom, they’re pretty. You may hate them, but you know they are. They’re beautiful. And who as a little kid in an area with dandelions hasn’t plucked up little sun-hued and sun-shaped blooms and run off with them? Who hasn’t wondered if they have anything to do with actual lions? Who hasn’t breathlessly waited for them to form those perfect spheres of white fluff that we could carefully pick and then blow on with all our might, trying to scatter the seeds with one blow and ensuring the lawn owner will spend next summer tearing their hair out over yet more dandelions?

Yes. It’s a complicated relationship.

Happily, I do not own a lawn, and furthermore find grass ridiculous, so I can enjoy dandelions without inner conflict. I was particularly delighted to find a set of them displaying several stages of bloom development during a supposed-to-be-winter-but-seemed-awfully-like-spring walk along North Creek.

Here we have the bud.

Dandelion bud.
Dandelion bud.

There are two, very tightly closed. Inside, the awesome unfolding of biology is preparing a bit of beauty for reasons of its own.

And at some point, it’s about ready to burst.

Dandelion bud beginning to open.
Dandelion bud beginning to open.

I like how it looks almost exhausted, the bits protecting the flower looking damp and worn out, having done the hard work of bringing a new flower to the brink of existence.

And then it begins to unfurl.

Opening dandelion, with some of the petals not completely unfurled.
Opening dandelion, with some of the petals not completely unfurled.

Watching them do this in time lapse is rather remarkable, especially watching it create the seed-head.

I’ll leave off with a little of my own art, ripped from context: rocking in a porch swing moved off the porch, at night, remembering a time before violent death tore ordinary life apart.

Quiet, then, just the creak of wooden joints as they rocked, young leaves rattling sometimes when the breeze gusted.  In the distance, louder vehicles on I90 sounded like wind themselves.  Bruised grass under the swing posts gave off a scent that had become inextricably entangled with gasoline fumes in her mind since the advent of landscapers with leaf blowers.  With baby powder, from all the time Kaitlyn had gone out to play in the freshly-mown grass while she and Stacey sat on the lawn watching her look for surviving dandelions, which hadn’t survived long when she found them, plucked them, came running back to her mother with a bit of botanical sunshine clutched in chubby little hands.

A good memory. And one, I imagine, that might change a person’s relationship with dandelions forever.

Dandelions on slope.
Dandelions on slope.
The Art of Nature: Dandelion Blooms

6 thoughts on “The Art of Nature: Dandelion Blooms

  1. 1

    A weed is a perfectly nice plant in the wrong place. And dandelions are very nice plants as long as they are not on your lawn. The leaves are edible: the small, young ones can be eaten fresh; older leaves are tough and bitter but make a fine addition to cooked greens and can be added as a flavoring to cooked tomato sauces. The blossoms can be trimmed eaten raw or steeped to make a tea that is traditionally prescribed for upset stomachs and loss of appetite; you can add lemon or orange juice and ferment to make dandelion wine. The roots are very nutritious and can be eaten raw or steamed, or they can be dried, ground up, roasted and used as a coffee substitute (lots of flavor, no caffeine.) In a tea, the shredded raw roots make a decent diuretic (the French name for dandelion is pissenlit, literally “piss in the bed”.)

    As long as you avoid plants sprayed with herbicides or the local canine population, dandelions in the garden can be quite useful.

  2. 2

    Got to go all botanical on you and point out that the dandelion is not a flower but an inflorescence, a whole helical array of small flowers (each “petal” is a flower) grouped together to make a big flower impression.

  3. 3

    The lion connection, as I recall it: “Dandelion” comes from the French “dent d’leon”, or lion’s tooth. It’s based on the shape of the leaves. (Corrections welcomed, especially to my French spelling!)

  4. 4

    It’s always confused me that the word “dandelion” comes from French, but the French name for dandelion, as Gregory noted, is something else entirely. Taraxacum officinale, folks!

  5. 5

    Aw, phytophactor beat me to one of the nits I was going to pick. :-( I will add, though, that there are several lovely terms for the inflorescences of plants in the sunflower family (Taraxacum officinale among them), of which my favorite is “pseudanthium”.

    My other nit is that your second photo shows a pseudanthium a day or two past flowering, not before. Those tired & worn-out bits are the corollas of the outer whorl of flowers in the psuedanthium.

  6. 6

    My granddaughter picked a handful of dandelions for her mother. I helped her put them in a glass of water to keep fresh until Mommy came home. (They didn’t. They never do.)

    But the dandelions she picked were the abandoned heads after all the seeds had blown away. And I looked at them, and realized she was right; they are beautiful, too.

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