This section is from the "The New Student's Reference Work Volume 5: How And Why Stories" by Elinor Atkinson.
Did you ever split a hollow stem of dandelion in strips, and pull it through your mouth to make a bunch of curls? It tasted bitter, didn't it? Every part of the plant has that bitter taste, very strong in the old roots, just a hint in the young leaves. In the country, people often gather the young leaves of dandelion with mustard and curly dock leaves, and cook them for greens. They are better than spinach. The French use their dent-du-lion leaves for salad, as we use lettuce. Indeed, lettuce is a cousin of the dandelion, so is chicory or endive, another salad plant. They both have that slightly bitter taste and milky sap. All of the plants of this family are useful in making medicines. One of them is called solidado, which means to cure, or to make whole.
When there were plenty of blossoms of the dandelion everywhere, each child brought a big one, as round and yellow and as many rayed as a baby sun, to school. They traced the circles of yellow strap shaped petals, and tried to count the sunny rays. They got their finger tips all gold-dusty with pollen and learned, in that way, how the honey bees and butterflies carry pollen away on their legs. They found that the rays all had their stems sunk in a soft, green vase. With sharp finger nails they split the sides of the vases and spread them open. The rays just fell apart, so one could be picked out and studied under a microscope. Growing upward from the little swollen base of each ray, were shining threads tipped with buttons or pollen dust—seed makers!
"Why," said a surprised little girl, "just this yellow ray and the things growing on it look like a whole flower!"
"It is. A dandelion head is a whole bouquet of flowers in a cup."
"It's something like a United States of flowers, isn't it?" asked a boy.
"That's it! A great scientist has said that the motto of the dandelion and its cousins seems to be 'United we stand."
Really, the dandelion might be chosen for our national flower. It grows everywhere ; it blooms from April until frost, and it is hard to conquer, once it gets a foothold. It's root goes deep and lives over winter. You may cut the plant off, burn the ground over, or plow it up, but the smallest root tip sends up a new plant. Every seed globe scatters it far. Count the seeds of the Blow Ball. Sturdy, determined little Lion Tooth, it hangs onto every one of its thousand chances of life.
There is another reason why it might be a good national flower. Its ray flowers, its toothed leaves, its long, swaying stems and gauzy seed globes could be used in many beautiful forms of art. They could be used as rosettes and borders, and the bases and capitals of stone pillars. See what pretty designs in charcoal, crayon and water-color you can make from studies of the dandelion.
These many-in-one flowers are called composites. All the ray flowers belong to this family—the daisy, the sun-flower, the asters, the chrysanthemums, dog-fennel, rosin-weed, thistles, the—guess! But you never will—the golden-rod!
That tall, rough, weedy stalk, with hairy leaves and long, drooping plume of flowers doesn't look at all like the ray flowers. The separate flowers are more like fairy lily bells. But a number of them are crowded into one head, and the seed are ray-feathered for flight. Like the dandelion, the golden-rod grows everywhere on good or poor soil. It sends down a stout root that fights for its life, and it makes countless seeds.
The composite flowers are the highest in the plant world because they can live and grow, and make and scatter the most seed under the hardest conditions. They are not at all concerned about being useful to men. Nearly one-eighth of all the plants on the globe are composites, but many of them are troublesome weeds. The daisy, the aster and the chrysanthemum have been improved into beautiful garden flowers, and the lettuce and endive into salad plants.
The whole insect world seems to help these composite flowers. Bees and wasps and flies and beetles visit them. Moths suck their honey by night. They have enemies, too. Grasshoppers eat their leaves. Crickets and beetles lay eggs on them. Caterpillars bore tunnels down golden-rod stems. The aphis, or plant louse, sucks their juices. But the ant, the red spider, the insect-eating birds, and toads and frogs find a thicket of golden-rods and asters a fine hunting ground, and destroy these enemies. On the strong, weedy stems a tiny wasp builds a gray paper house, and under the plant are to be found bumble bee nests and the cocoon cradles of many insects.
The composite plants are little books of nature. You could spend a long season finding out all the interesting things they could tell you. See Compositae, Dandelion, Daisy, Aster, Chrysanthemum, Goldenrod, Thistle. Plate, Volume II, page 686,