Thursday, 25 April 2013


We take Dandelions for granted and yet they merit consideration for their many interesting features. 

Basic floras simply refer to Taraxacum officinalis but this glosses over a far more complex situation. Because of the unusual way in which they are pollinated  (a self-pollinating system known as apomixis) a huge number of so-called microspecies have arisen, with 226 of these being known from Britain. Seventeen of the microspecies have been recorded from Northamptonshire but, as far as I am aware, little work on Dandelions has been done in our county for over fifty years.
Dandelions on a grassy verge.
Byfield, 25 April, 2013

As children we would use the fluffy heads to tell the time, blowing away the fruits with their feathery pappus and counting as we did so. Sometimes I would take a bunch of the flowers into the house, to be mildly scolded by my grandmother who called them "wet-the-beds". John Clare was far more earthy, calling them "piss-a-beds". These old names refer to the diuretic qualities of the plant. (There are at least two references in the King James Bible to "he who pisseth against the wall" so clearly the day-to-day usage of the p word has changed.) The stems bleed white latex when broken and my fingers would be stained brown by this fluid after telling the time.

Attempts have been made to use this latex for rubber production, with Russian scientists investigating Taraxacum kok-saghyz (usually referred to as TKS) - work which has been continued by German, Dutch and American researchers. Yields of up to 200 kg of rubber per hectare were reported from Russia and research continues.

The word "dandelion" is generally accepted as coming from the French "dente-de-lion" - lion's tooth and is thought to refer to the jagged leaf edges. 

John Clare wrote:

               And Dandelions like to suns will bloom
               Aside some bank or hillock low.

                                                        Clare's Village Minstrel, 185, 1821

... and I am pleased to see them blooming still, beside the A361, in their hundreds.
Dandelion beside the A361 in Byfield.
25 April, 2013

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