This section is from the book "British Wild Flowers - In Their Natural Haunts Vol2-4", by A. R. Horwood. Also available from Amazon: A British Wild Flowers In Their Natural Haunts.
The Dandelion, which affords so dear a recollection of youthful days and clock-blowing, has been native in Britain since very early times. It is found, in fact, in beds of Interglacial, Late Glacial, and Neolithic age. It is found in the Northern and Southern Temperate Zone as well as in the Arctic Zone. It is common in all parts of Great Britain, as far north as the Shetlands, and also in Ireland and the Channel Islands.
The Dandelion is a widespread plant, which in spring and early summer makes the meadows bright with golden blooms. The typical form is found in moist meadows, but one form is more confined to dry soils, whilst another form grows in wet marshy ground. It is common, too, at the foot of walls, in villages, and on waste ground.
The Dandelion is a good example of a plant having the rosette habit. The plant is either smooth and hairless or cottony at the crown and involucre. The root is long, stout, brownish or black, with milky juice, which also occurs throughout the whole plant, serving to protect the aerial parts. The leaves are bright-green, all radical, entire or deeply divided nearly to the base, runcinate, with the lobes turned backward towards the centre, toothed, and are oblong to inversely egg-shaped, spoon-shaped, wavy.
The flowerheads are golden-yellow, borne on hollow, succulent, juicy, round, radical scapes, ascending or erect. The heads are broad, erect in bud. The involucre is bell-shaped, the outer phyllaries bent back, the inner erect. The outer corollas are sometimes brown on the back. The fruit, a cypsela, is pale-brown, linear to inversely egg-shaped, blunt, prickly at the top, with longitudinal furrows, and a long beak, as long as the fruit. The pappus has a short neck, which is a continuation of the receptacular tube, adherent to the ovary. In fruit it lengthens and bears the spreading hairy silky pappus.
Photo. B. Hanley - Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale, Weber)
There are bristly points near the top of the inferior ovary which affix it to the soil.
The Dandelion is about 8 in. high. The plant flowers from March or April till October. It is perennial and propagated by division.
The flowerheads are conspicuous. They close up at night and when it is raining. They open at 5 - 6 a.m. and close between 8 and 10 p.m. at Upsala, but at Innsbruck they open between 6 and 7 a.m. and close between 2 and 3 p.m., showing that a slight difference in latitude greatly affects the opening of flowers.
In each capitulum there are 100-300 florets. It measures 30-50 mm. across, though the receptacle is 5-7 mm. across. The tube is 3 - 7 mm. long. The honey rises high up the tube. The style nearly fills the tube. The anther cylinder, 2 1/2 - 5 mm. long, projects from it, and the style is 3 - 5 mm. above this after lengthening. Upon this projecting portion are pointed hairs which sweep the pollen out of the tube and accumulate it. The style branches are 1 1/2 - 2 mm. long, and covered with stigmatic papillae on the inner face. They bend over and backwards, making one and a half spiral turns, and in the absence of insect visitors, that may remove the pollen, self-pollination occurs.
The last phase is of advantage to the plant, which flowers perennially when insects are not flying, as in early spring and late autumn, or even winter. The pollen is variable in the same floret.
The flower is visited by the Honey Bee, Bombus silvarum, B. confusus, B. barbutellus, and other Hymenoptera, besides Diptera, Lepidoptera, and Coleoptera.
The fruits are provided with a tuft of hairs, forming the "clock" or pappus, which assist in wind dispersal.
The Dandelion grows on different soils, according to the forms (of which there are several) into which one may split it up. It is common on sand soil, other forms grow on clay soil, while one form (palustre) is a peat plant and requires rather peaty conditions.
The fungi Puccinia variabilis, P. taraxaci, P. sylvatica, and Pro-. tomyces pachydermis attack the leaves. Several insects adopt the Dandelion as a food plant, such as a beetle, Meligethes symphyti; several Hymenoptera, Andrena albicans, A. flipes, A. tibialis, A. thoracica, A. nitida, A. nigroaenea, A. gwynana, and Lepidoptera - Buff Ermine (Aretia labricipeda). The Shears (Hadena dentina), Cream Wave (Acidalia remutata), Gold Swift (Hepialus hectus), Clouded Buff (Euthemonia russula), Northern Rustic (Agrotis lucer-ned), Great Brocade (Aplecta occulta).
Taraxacum, Lonicerus, may be from the Greek tarasso, I disturb, from its medicinal effects. Dandelion is from the French dent de lion, in allusion to the leaf margin, and the second Latin name refers to the use in medicine.
The Dandelion is known by a variety of vernacular names, such as Bitterwort, Blowball, Blower, Canker, Cankerwort, Clock, Crow-parsnip, Irish Daisy, Dandelion, Dentelion, Dindle, Doon-head-clock, Fortune-teller, Gowan, Monkshood, One o'clocks, Priest's Crown, Stink Davie, Swine's Snout. It is called Priest's Crown and Monkshead because the naked receptacle after the fruits are dispersed is like the shaven head of a priest. As to the name Doon-head-clock, Mactaggart says: "Rustics, to know the time of the day, pull the plant and puff away at its downy head, and the puffs it takes to blow the down from it is reckoned by them the time of the day". Blowball, Blower, Fortune-teller, are all connected with the same choristic feature.
If seen in dreams the superstitious believed it was a bad omen.
It is called Peasant's Clock, the flower opening early in the morning.
Dandelion with globe of down, The schoolboys' clock in every town, Which the truant puffs amain, To conjure lost hours back again.
The name Dent de lion has been connected with the sun, of which the lion is the symbol, the teeth in this way being rays round a golden head, the sun.
An Irish charm was to give the patient nine leaves of Dandelion, three leaves being eaten on three successive mornings.
Warts have been supposed to have been cured by the juice of the Dandelion in the Midlands.
The leaves are used in medicine for several remedies. In spring the leaves, blanched under a tile, are used as a salad, and resemble Endive. The French eat the long, milky roots as a salad, raw; and it is boiled in Germany as Salsify. The root dried and ground has been used for coffee. Pios and a-oats are fond of it. It was used as a remedy for jaundice.
Essential Specific Characters: 182. Taraxacum officinale, Weber. - Flowering stems scapes, leaves radical, runcinate, smooth, lobes recurved, sinuate, toothed, flowerheads large, yellow, outer florets brown beneath, outer scales of involucre re-flexed, scape hollow, milky, pappus pilose, stalked, receptacle convex.