Tooth of the Lion

May 19, 2023

By Pat Loomis, Conservancy Volunteer

Dandelions are named from the French “dent de lion” meaning “ tooth of the lion”.  This name originated from their serrated leaves which give the appearance of sharp, feline teeth.

Dandelions belong to the genus Teraxacum, native to Eurasia and North America.  Dandelions look like one large flower but they are composed of lots of small flowers called florets to create a flower head.
The most well known is the common dandelion (Taraxacum Officinale) native to Europe and North America.  This species grows between 2” -18” lobed and toothed.  After flowering a spherical seed head -known as as “clock” forms. Each fruit (containing the seeds) is attached to a fine feather-like filament that aids in dispersal.

Plants are vibrant living, breathing creatures, forever finding ways to get an edge on competition and avoid predation.  One way dandelions do this is in the way they have evolved to develop their seeds. To attract pollinators dandelions throw their flowers high in the spring to attract as many pollinators as possible.  When flowering is finished seeds begin to develop inside old flowering heads. These developing seeds are a favorite spring food stuff for birds, especially finches.  To try to avoid predators once flowering is finished, the flowering stems go limp and hug the ground to keep the developing seeds out of sight.  Once the seeds ripen they throw their stems up again and expose ripe seeds to the next gust of wind that comes along or person blowing too make a wish;) these dandelion seed parachutes can travel up to 60 miles!

Dandelions are some of the most versatile plants that can be foraged.  Roots, leaves, and flowers can all be used. This useful plant is chock-full of Vitamin A, B,C, and D as well as important minerals.  The leaves add flavor to salads. The roots can be dried and ground to make coffee. The flowers are used to make wine.

Next time you see a dandelion remember what Ralph Waldo Emerson said:  “What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”

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