Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Dandelions: Underappreciated Perennials

I just don't get it. Why is the humble dandelion so maligned? I remember picking dandelions as a child and feeling delighted that there was a flower I was allowed to pick and could offer as a bouquet to my parents as a token of my love. I felt proud to see a Dixie cup of dandelions I picked sitting on the windowsill. 

As a parent, I adored the sight of one of my children offering a fistful of dandelions, beaming with such pride and love - perhaps because it reawakened in me the feelings from when I was a child. And what is sweeter than tiny cheeks puffed up to blow wishes and seed fairies from a freshly plucked dandelion puff ball into the wind? Inspired by a photo of my son doing this, I named my first collection of parenting poetry The Dandelion Years. That title summed up for me the sweetness and wonder of that chapter of life.

The Dandelion Years cover photo

So you see, I am a fan of dandelions. I appreciate the sight of a lawn dotted with small yellow flowers and "wishing ball" puffs on a stem. 

A friend of mine noted recently that dandelions are a valuable, early source of pollen and nectar for honeybees at this time of year when their winter stores have been used up. I have read widely that honeybee colonies are dying off and that declines in honeybee populations could result in widespread agricultural and environmental disaster. Our food supply is dependent on honeybees and other pollinators, and letting dandelions grow in our yards is a way of caring for honeybees and our planet.

And that's good enough for me!

In addition, they have been valued around the world for certain medicinal and culinary properties.

When I talk about dandelions with my kindergarten students, I always point out that - while dandelion greens and even the flowers are edible (especially when young and tender) - you can't pick and eat them at whim due to the danger of pesticides and other lawn care chemicals. 

Each year without fail, a number of students announce that their parents "hate dandelions...because they are weeds!" (Personally, I prefer to think of them as wildflowers. To each his own!) However, picking dandelions for our classroom nature table is a favorite, spontaneous pastime during recess. And this year, one of my students talked about eating - and liking - dandelion pancakes. Well, I guess he one-upped me!

I'm sure I've mentioned in a previous post my favorite children's picture book about dandelions, The Dandelion Seed by Joseph Anthony. It is a lovely story about a dandelion seed that doesn't want to let go. When it finally does, it takes a long journey in the wind and sees how big, frightening, lonely, and beautiful the world is until it finally lands in its own special place. Then the story describes wondrously (and with gorgeous illustrations) the life cycle of the new dandelion that grows from the seed. And then it goes full circle. The story provides a beautiful metaphor well suited to families who are sending a child to school for the first time.

 Here is my advice on how to appreciate dandelions in three simple steps:
  1. Slow down and take a closer look.
  2. Stop thinking.
  3. Be fascinated.

Number two is critical. You need to connect with a dandelion without labeling it with a word like weed because it carries such a negative connotation. You have to step out of the thinking mind, beyond all words and concepts, into pure sensory awareness in order to see how geometric and beautiful a dandelion really is. I especially love the puff balls.

However, the flowers also have a subtle charm. When I looked closely at one, I noticed a tiny star at the center.

And sometimes when I walk through the yard, I notice dandelions in formations that suggest human-like relationships. For example, in this photo, it looks like an elder or teacher of some sort is sharing his/her wisdom with younger dandelions.

And these two look like older dandelions in love.

Even though many people don't appreciate a yard dotted with dandelions, if you take a closer look through a different lens, you may discover (if you need convincing) that they are indeed beautiful and of great value. 

And I want to try dandelion pancakes sometime!

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss ( with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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