Common Dandelion

When it comes to invasive plants, the dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) isn’t exactly Kubla Khan.

Rarely, if ever, will you see a Newsweek article covering the dandelion with the same “unstoppable horde” mentality we’ve come to expect from ink spent on more exotic and threatening species, such as the lionfish or wild pig -- and for good reason. It’s hard to drum up hysteria or public outrage over a plant so commonplace that children have been making wishes over it since before anyone can remember. No one fears dandelions chewing through ag lands or threatening the future of delicate coral reefs.

Simply put, the dandelion isn’t sexy. It just doesn’t sell.

Whether that’s a problem or not, I can’t really say. On one hand, the dandelion is indeed an invasive species. European settlers first introduced the plant during the settlement of the Americas, bringing the plant over as a food source and medicinal supplement. From there, their spread exploded, so much so that the dandelion can now be found from Maine to Hawaii. Ask any amateur gardener for their feelings about the dandelion and you might as well buckle in for a long, profanity-laden rant.

On the other hand, many ecologists agree that dandelions have little, if any, negative impact on the environments to which they're introduced. Sure, they’re a pain when it comes time to plant your spring tomatoes, but no one’s being crowded out of valuable habitat by this humble puffball. In fact, there’s mounting evidence that dandelions have become a valuable source of forage for native wildlife across North America.

So it begs the question - what are dandelions doing on this site?

Well, for starters, they provide a master class in both adaptability and abundance. When most of us think of dandelions, we probably picture the white, puffy, post-bloom stage of the plant, which are actually seeds ready to take flight and spread the species. Under the right conditions, these seeds can be carried for miles, before landing in the perfect patch of disturbed earth. From there, colonization is virtually unstoppable.

Dandelion’s are also incredibly difficult to eradicate once they take hold. Producing a tap root that can extend up to 10 inches below the surface, the plant will cling to life if even a small fraction of its root structure is left behind. Remember those angry gardeners? Their feelings of inadequacy may have been a little premature.

Unfortunately, their hardy and adaptable nature has made dandelions a prime candidate for herbicide use across the country, despite the fact that they're both edible and incredibly nutritious.  

And that, above all else, is why you’re reading about dandelions on this site.

Rather than dump harmful chemicals in our backyard gardens to deal with this ubiquitous weed, we should be encouraging folks to bring the dandelion into their kitchen, tapping into the very qualities that saw them brought to this country in the first place. They also provide an easy first step into the world of eating edible invasive species that, I believe, more and more people should be practicing.

So, next time you find yourself cursing your weeds, relax, take a breath and have a bite.

I think you’ll find they’re just dandy.