Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Kate Crowley
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

May and dandelions

Going Nature's Way


The month of May is the reward for Minnesotans who have made it through another winter. There truly is no other time of year that is more refreshing and uplifting. It begins subtly, with the swelling of buds on the branches of the trees. Then those buds open up and create a flush of red in the maples. The aspens in the meantime are the first to produce leaves and these create a haze of green. In our yards and gardens flowers like the crocus, daffodils and scilla blooms bringing long sought bright colors.

Every day brings new discoveries as the migratory birds begin to return. In the low areas that hold water, the “crickety” sounds of the Chorus Frogs is heard, then the “quacking” sounds coming from the Wood Frogs, and finally, the Spring Peepers peeping.

The urge to start planting flowers is intense but we learn the hard way that frost and even snow cannot be ruled out in May. In the yards, one flower appears that elicits something other than great joy. That pretty, yellow bloom is the dandelion, but don’t rush to dig them up or worse yet, use herbicide to kill them because they are very important for the early pollinators.

The dandelion arrived in North America with the people who came to these shores seeking a new life. With them they carried reminders of the old country in seeds, both intentionally and accidentally. The name of this flower relates to its deeply toothed and pointed leaves which caused someone in the Middle Ages in France to compare them to the teeth of the lion, hence “Dents-de-Lion.”

Back before lawns became the pride and joy many people, this flower was not considered a nuisance. In fact, it was enjoyed as a fresh bit of greenery for consumption. If you are an adventurous gourmand and you know that the dandelions have not been treated with an herbicide, you might gather some of the leaves from the newest dandelions to add to a salad bowl. The leaves are rich in vitamin A, thiamine, riboflavin and calcium. They even have more potassium than bananas. The leaves become more bitter as they age, but even these can be consumed if they are boiled twice (changing the water after the first boiling), for a dish similar to spinach.

Dandelion wine was a common concoction of previous generations, using the blooming flowers. Some people have been known to gather the roots in early spring or fall and bake them until they are brown and brittle and then grind them up to use as a substitute for coffee. I cannot attest to its flavor or suitability for a cup of decaf.

As mentioned earlier, the blooms attract dozens of insect species. Each flower is made up of hundreds of florets, each containing nectar and pollen. The pollen is sterile, so it doesn’t reproduce through pollination or fertilization; instead there are seeds that appear in the later form of the flower. Many of us as children were introduced to the plant in this way. I recently read that some call it the Blowball, which is a good description, since it has a soft globe of seeds that when shaken by the wind or someone blowing on it, will float away on their little silken “parachutes.”

There was the custom of girls who would take a daisy and pluck each floret and recite, “He loves me, he loves me not…” Well, apparently there are similar “prophesies” found in a Blowball. If you blow on the seed head and want to know if your sweetheart is thinking of you, the answer will be yes if there are any seeds left after blowing on it. Seems to me, this one can be easily manipulated for the right answer.

What I remember about the dandelions of my childhood was the test to see if you liked butter or not. Someone would hold a dandelion under your chin and if there was a yellow tint to your skin it showed that you liked butter. Which leads me to ask, how do these silly customs ever develop?

Another interesting characteristic of the dandelion flower is that on sunny days it opens in the morning and begins to close up around 1 p.m. and is fully closed by sundown. It often stays closed on cloudy or rainy days as a way to protect the parts of the flowers that produce the pollen and nectar.

Just before turning into a Blowball the flower closes up and remains that way for several days as the seeds develop. At the same time the flowersalk grows longer so that when the seeds are ready for dispersal they have an advantage of being higher than the others of their kind. I had not noticed that in the past, but I will look this summer to see how this flower has adapted in order to improve the chances that its genes will be successful and proliferate.


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