COMPOSITE FAMILY - Compositae: Common Dandelion; Blowball; Lion's-tooth; Peasant's Clock
Taraxacum officinale (T. Dens-leonis)
Flower-head--Solitary, golden yellow, 1 to 2 in. across, containing 150 to 200 perfect ray florets on a flat receptacle at the top of a hollow, milky scape 2 to 18 in. tall. Leaves: From a very deep, thick, bitter root; oblong to spatulate in outline, irregularly jagged.
Preferred Habitat--Lawns, fields, grassy waste places.
Flowering Season--Every month in the year.
Distribution--Around the civilized world.
"Dear common flower that grow'st beside the way,
Fringing the dusty road with harmless gold.
* * * * *
"Gold such as thine ne'er drew the Spanish prow
Through the primeval hush of Indian seas,
Nor wrinkled the lean brow
Of age, to rob the lover's heart of ease.
'Tis the spring's largess, which she scatters now
To rich and poor alike, with lavish hand;
Though most hearts never understand
To take it at God's value, but pass by
The offered wealth with unrewarded eye."
Let the triumphant Anglo-Saxon with dreams of expansion that include the round earth, the student of sociology who wishes an insight into cooperative methods as opposed to individualism, the young man anxious to learn how to get on, parents with children to be equipped for the struggle for existence, business men and employers of labor, all sit down beside the dandelion and take its lesson to heart. How has it managed without navies and armies--for it is no imperialist--to land its peaceful legions on every part of the civilized world and take possession of the soil? How can this neglected wayside composite weed triumph over the most gorgeous hothouse individual on which the horticulturist expends all the science at his command; to flourish where others give up the struggle defeated; to send its vigorous offspring abroad prepared for similar conquest of adverse conditions wherever met; to attract myriads of customers to its department store, and by consummate executive ability to make every visitor unwittingly contribute to its success? Any one who doubts the dandelion's fitness to survive should humble himself by spending days and weeks on his knees, trying to eradicate the plant from even one small lawn with a knife, only to find the turf starred with golden blossoms, or, worse still from his point of view, hoary with seed balloons the following spring.
Deep, very deep, the stocky bitter root penetrates where heat and drought affect it not, nor nibbling rabbits, moles, grubs of insects, and other burrowers break through and steal. Cut off the upper portion only with your knife, and not one, but several, plants will likely sprout from what remains; and, however late in the season, will economize stem and leaf to produce flowers and seeds, cuddled close within the tuft, that set all your pains at naught. "Never say die" is the dandelion's motto. An exceedingly bitter medicine is extracted from the root of this dandelion. Likewise are the leaves bitter. Although they appear so early in the spring, they must be especially tempting to grazing cattle and predaceous insects, the rosettes remain untouched, while other succulent, agreeable plants are devoured wholesale. Only Italians and other thrifty Old World immigrants, who go about then with sack and knife collecting the fresh young tufts, give the plants pause; but even they leave the roots intact. When boiled like spinach or eaten with French salad dressing, the bitter juices are extracted from the leaves or disguised--mean tactics by an enemy outside the dandelion's calculation. All nations know the plant by some equivalent for the name dent de lion = lion's tooth, which the jagged edges of the leaves suggest.
After flowering, it again looks like a bud, lowering its head to mature seed unobserved. Presently rising on a gradually lengthened scape to elevate it where there is no interruption for the passing breeze from surrounding rivals, the transformed head, now globular, white, airy, is even more exquisite, set as it is with scores of tiny parachutes ready to sail away. A child's breath puffing out the time of day, a vireo plucking at the fluffy ball for lining to put in its nest, the summer breeze, the scythe, rake, and mowing machines, sudden gusts of winds sweeping the country before thunderstorms--these are among the agents that set the flying vagabonds free. In the hay used for packing they travel to foreign lands in ships, and, once landed, readily adapt themselves to conditions as they find them. After soaking in the briny ocean for twenty-eight days--long enough for a current to carry them a thousand miles along the coast--they are still able to germinate.