Potty Gardening Club: Dandelion – Friend or Foe?
Dandelions are one of the most successful plants in the world, they seem to grow anywhere! In the cracks of the pavement, in your lawn and flower bed, at the side of the road – in fact anywhere they can set roots down. We are all familiar with dandelion clocks, like the one in my photograph:
It’s the fluffy seed ball that separates into lots of tiny parachutes carried on the wind. If the tiny parachute seeds can land in a small crack a dandelion will grow. Dandelions are in the same plant family as the Daisy and the Sunflower. They are perennials, which means they will survive over winter and grow again. Their long taproots go deep into the ground where they are protected against the winter weather. The roots store food to provide the energy the plants need to sprout in early Spring the next year. It’s the very deep root of the dandelion which can grow up to 1.5 meters deep that make it so difficult for gardeners to pull the plants out of soil. Strangely these deep roots benefit other plants by mining nutrients deep in the soil, bringing them up closer to the surface where other shallower-rooted plants can make use of them. So, before we class the poor old dandelion as a weed let’s take a closer look.
There is a lot to be discovered about the dandelion. Let’s start with the name. If you hold a dandelion leaf horizontally and have a good look or look at the picture below it may resemble a row of teeth . Well it did to someone in the past, who called it the dent-de-lion which is French for ‘lion’s tooth’. And did you know dandelions can be used as a green salad food? Dandelions used to be praised as a food crop. The entire plant, leaves, stems, flowers, and roots are all edible. Dandelion greens contain important vitamins A, C, E, and K, as well as calcium, potassium, iron, and manganese so are a good food source. They can be eaten fresh or cooked. The flowers can also be used to make tea, wine and pop. During World War 2, dried, roasted roots were ground up and used to make a caffeine-free coffee substitute.
And that’s not all, yellow dye can be made from the flowers and the roots. Dandelions are an important plant for bees and other pollinators that rely on this early flowering plant when no other flowers are blooming as a source of nectar. The dandelion plant was well known and used by the ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, and the Anglo Saxons. Dandelions were prescribed for every ailment from warts and upset stomach to the plague. How can such a marvellous plant with so many beneficial properties be classed as a weed? What do think? The Dandelion, Friend or Foe, Weed it or Grow?
This week we have two colouring pictures – you can download the first sheet here. We also have this dandelion flower with its sunshine dye removed – why don’t you see if you can put the colour back and make it shine again?
Written by Rob Gagliano, Casual Learning Development Leader and Natural Science Collections Volunteer