Dandelions, miniature suns fallen to earth

Dandelions along Newmarket Road

I wonder if you blew dandelion clocks as a child to tell the time? I remember loving the idea that by blowing I had the power to tell the time. Dandelions are in flower now all round Burwell. While I hear gardeners (my husband!) and people at the allotment (my husband again!) bemoaning their spread, I’ve been taking a closer look.

I’ve been discovering the wonder of dandelions’ structure; the joy of a watching a bee revel in their pollen, buzzing as if with the pleasure of a purring cat; while my neighbour has been picking their leaves for salad and to stir fry. Like small suns fallen to earth, these plants are made to make us smile.

Dandelion means ‘lion’s teeth’, possibly named for their jagged leaves or the tooth-like bracts that stick out, surrounding the flower.

‘Dandelion’ comes from the French ‘dent-de-lion’, a translation from mediaeval latin ‘dens leonis’ meaning ‘lion’s teeth. Some think this name comes from the jagged edges of the leaves. I think the name is more likely to come from the sharp tooth-like shape of the leaves (the bracts) that surround the flower, that point outwards as if daring anyone to come close.

Last year I went on a workshop to learn to identify dandelions. How many species of dandelion would you guess are in the UK? I was astonished to learn there are 235. One to remember for a pub quiz – virtual or once we get out of Lockdown! Encouraged to look closer, I discovered different shapes and colours to their leaves, that their bracts have many different shapes, lengths, and colours, and that their seeds are again different colours and shapes. ‘Dandelions’ are much more complicated than they appear! I also learned April is the main month they are in flower – so now is the time to enjoy them.

I love dandelion clocks – and not just to blow. They are superlatively formed structures, designed to maximise the spread of their seeds by the wind – or a child’s puff.

Exquisite circular structure of a dandelion seed head, seen through a microscope
Single seed with its ‘parachute’ of silky hairs

If you have a magnifying glass (one with a light is even better, my Mum uses one to help with reading) use it to have a close up look at a dandelion clock yourself. If you have a smart phone, you may be able to take a magnified photo of part of a dandelion clock. Or take close ups of several different plants for a ‘guess which plant this comes from’ section of your next virtual quiz.

Or just pick a clock, puff and let the seeds fly…

A different way of thinking

After reading this post, Pat Richards, my mother-in-law, told me her grandfather, who lived in Abertillery, South Wales, loved dandelions and used to say that if people didnt think of them as weeds they would be cultivated. By showing you their beauty, and understanding how they feed other wildlife, this is just the change in thinking that I hope to achieve. How about we allow a few to grow, where we can?

2 thoughts on “Dandelions, miniature suns fallen to earth

  1. Nicola s 19th Apr 2020 / 5:52 pm

    Lovely reflection on the common garden dandelion, Jo, thank you. I particularly love the idea of them being little suns fallen to earth. But da4e I admit I am ruthlessly pulling them all up from our garden, wherever they appear?!

    Liked by 1 person

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