In Defense of Dandelions – a Jason and Ryan Collaboration

About a month ago, Jason Probst and I decided to become blogging accountability partners. Each week, we must post by midnight on Saturday. Otherwise, we have to buy the other a drink at Social Saturday. Last Saturday night while I may or may not have been finishing last week’s entry while sitting at 21 Santa Fe with the Social Saturday crew, Jason and I realized we had stumbled across the same thought for our blogs this week, so we decided to join forces and post our writing on the topic jointly. We think it worked out pretty well and are planning on doing more of this sort of thing in the future. Be sure to check out Jason’s blog. He has many fantastic pieces to read and contemplate.

And now to our Defense of Dandelions.

From Ryan
“I can come over while you are at work and pull your dandelions for you. Does that work for you?” She said with a smile rather than asked, but still the words caught me off guard to say the least.

I had only purchased my house a few weeks before, and this was either the second or third time I had talked to my neighbor with a great backyard. The idea of pulling dandelions had never occurred to me. I had grown up in the country where they were able to grow to their heart’s content, but suddenly self-conscious of the cute yellow flowers all around where I stood, I felt like I needed to do something to be a good neighbor. This was definitely something never mentioned to me about being a homeowner. Sure, there was mowing the grass, paying property taxes, budgeting for a mortgage, and replacing expensive items like furnaces, air conditioners, and the such; however, killing dandelions was not something on the list.  After thanking her but ultimately declining her offer, I decided it was my neighborly duty to battle the fierce dandelion. Soon armed with one of those silly dandelion removal hand tools, I started to go after each one, and each one pulled led to my admiring their impressive root system. This attempt seemed only to lead to their spreading and coming back with a vengeance. Where there was one suddenly became five, which were all very pretty if I say so myself.
The next step was turning to chemical warfare. However, thanks to the backyard truly belonging to Callie and also thanks to my great love for bees, butterflies, and all sorts of nature, the idea of using a fierce chemical weed killer of any kind was not an option. Rather, I tried boiling water and then later a vinegar mixture. While the Grim Reaper visited some, the persistent dandelions, for the most part, continued on.

The thing, though, is the death of each dandelion pained me a little because, and this is going to be controversial, I am a big fan of them. I always have been, and I will be. Ultimately, they won the battle that summer to gain free reign of my yard, and to be honest, they had long ago won the war for my heart, so today, I am taking a stand and officially joining their side to defend the dandelion.

The dandelion is a fascinating plant to say the least. This Taraxacum species native to the Northern Hemisphere includes anywhere from 60 species to 34 macrospecies/2000 microspecies depending on how technical one would like to get. It is also believed these flowers that produce asexually go back to about 30 million years  and likely came to the United States via the Mayflower thanks to their medicinal purposes. Yep, dandelions have been used as an herbal remedy throughout time and across cultures. The name “dandelion” itself came from the French dent de lion for “lion’s tooth.” Besides bothering people concerned with a perfectly manicured lawn, the little dandelion can have many, many purposes.

For starters, dandelions are a great food source. Bees turn to these little flowers as some of their first food for the season, and needless to say, we should all care about bees. Dandelions are also good for the yard thanks to their ability to pull nutrients up from the depths of the soil to help fertilize grass. Plus, dandelions are great for humans too. They are rich in Vitamin A, C, and K and can be a great place to get calcium, potassium, iron, and magnesium. Furthermore, dandelion wine, dandelion tea, dandelion salads, sautéed dandelion greens, and dandelion syrup are just a few of the many tasty items they can become (check out this site for just a few of the many dandelion recipes out there).

Beyond the many practical purposes though exists another level for the lovely dandelion – that special level that is hard to name but ever so important for it is here where things exist that can bring a smile to one’s face. Just imagine the joy a child can find in picking a dandelion bouquet or making a wish as he or she blows the seeds into the wind to be carried to their eventual new home. Think back to a time when a youngster, with a heart of full love, handed you a single dandelion, which he or she was very proud to give to you. Without a doubt, there is something wondrous about dandelions. Kids can see it, but unfortunately, as we get older, the desire to conform to society occurs, and what once brought us happiness can now, thanks to pressures of others, bring distress. As my good friend Jason said as we were talking about dandelions, something whimsical from our childhood is being annihilated by Round Up by our adult selves.

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It doesn’t have to be this way. It’s time to embrace the inner child and let go of some of the pull from the society-peer-pressured status symbol of the green lawn Abraham Levitt made us believe we all needed to have. The next time you see a dandelion, please take a minute to look at those bright yellow petals to notice how truly lovely they really are. Then also look again at the stunningly intricate structure that appears when they reach seed form. Finally, remember, just as you knew as a child but may have forgotten with the passing of time, that these are not some regular plant, but instead, as my dear friend Julie likes to call them, they are magical wishing flowers that carry the ability to help make a wish come true with just the aid of single blow of breath. It is then you may also go from seeing dandelions as nothing more than a weed to realizing the true beauty that shines throughout this magical flower.

From Jason

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In Ray Bradbury’s book Dandelion Wine, young Douglas Spaulding learns that his grandfather has found a way to save every summer he’d ever experienced, in a bottle of Dandelion Wine.

“And there, row upon row, with the soft gleam of flowers opened at morning, with the light of this June sun glowing through a faint skin of dust, would stand the dandelion wine. Peer through it at the wintry day – the snow melted to grass, the trees were reinhabitated with bird, leaf, and blossoms like a continent of butterflies breathing on the wind. And peering through, color sky from iron to blue.

But the lowly dandelion is not viewed with much romanticism by most of us. Instead, it’s an invasive species. A yellow pox on our otherwise perfectly green and manicured lawns. We’ll spray it with herbicide until it wilts and dies. We’ll dig it up with a spade and throw it in the trash, but for all those efforts, the dandelion persists.

Twice in the past week, I had conversations about the lowly dandelion. The first was on a bike ride, where one of my friends mentioned that the dandelion should be a little more tolerated because it’s one of the first flowers that bees seek out in the early spring. And then it struck me that aside from a chirping Robin in your yard, there’s no surer sign of spring than the emergence of dandelions.

The second conversation came at a gathering Saturday night, when Ryan said he next wanted to write in defense of the dandelion – a plan I had in mind after my initial conversation on that bike ride. Thus, our collaborative defense of the dandelion was born.

Maybe it’s a control issue. Maybe we don’t like this wild and unruly thing coming into our lives. Maybe we don’t like being bested by something as simple and small as a plant. Maybe we just want our little corner of the world to be perfect, and the presence of a patch of dandelions is an unpleasant reminder that it won’t ever be perfect.

I remember as a child, my mom would pluck dandelions from the yard and hold them under my chin. I can’t remember, however, what the point of it was. If my chin reflected yellow, or stained yellow, it meant something. I searched the practice online and found I wasn’t alone. Though there’s scant authoritative information on it, I found several threads in which people likewise remembered their moms or grandfathers doing the same thing.

I do know, though, that I’ve never seen the dandelion as a vulgar plant. Of course, I’ve not ever much cared for manicured lawns, either. And I know that when I think back on the dandelion, it triggers pleasant memories. The aforementioned “buttercup” example, or late summer days blowing the seeds of a mature dandelion across the lawn, filled with excitement as the airy white seeds floated away with my secret wishes.

I know I’m not alone with these memories, so I wonder what it is about the dandelion that drives so many people so mad in adulthood. Based on the number of search engine results, there are a lot of people who will try just about anything to get rid of the dandelion forever.

Maybe it’s a control issue. Maybe we don’t like this wild and unruly thing coming into our lives. Maybe we don’t like being bested by something as simple and small as a plant. Maybe we just want our little corner of the world to be perfect, and the presence of a patch of dandelions is an unpleasant reminder that it won’t ever be perfect. That no matter how hard we try, we can’t always keep out the things we’d rather not see. Sometimes, even if we’ve done everything else right, these troubles are carried by the wind and land right in the middle of our carefully crafted perfection.

One could spend an entire lifetime trying to keep dandelions out of the yard, and still fail. The wind can’t be controlled, nor can the landing of the seeds. So maybe it’s time for us to embrace the lowly dandelion.

It’s an early food source for pollinators. It’s a natural plaything for children. It’s a harbinger of spring, and a sign that winter’s grip is over. And, with the right perspective, one might even come to admire some of the dandelion’s character – its resilience, its freedom, and its unending effort to share its underappreciated beauty with anyone willing to see it.

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