The Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) or Caisearbhán in Irish is very noticeable now on road verges, waste places, embankments, lawns and banks of canal, stream and river. It flowers from March to October (1).
Many people consider it a troublesome weed because it spreads quickly, and its deep tap root is difficult to pull out completely. It will regenerate from even a small piece left in the ground.
Nonetheless, it is a lifesaver for bees and hoverflies in early spring when there are not too many wildflowers about. Each plant possesses copious amounts of pollen and nectar which is eagerly sought after by these insects. Over a hundred types of insect have been recorded visiting this flower (2).
The bright yellow flowers close at night and during wet weather. Each flower head sits on a hollow stem filled with a white sticky sap which was used to cure warts. The head is surrounded by two rows of bracts, an inner one and an outer one (3).
Besides curing warts, the dandelion was used to treat jaundice, liver problems, cuts, diabetes, eye styes, coughs and colds, stomach upsets, gall stones, kidney problems and dizziness. It is still used to make tea, beer, tonic drinks and wine and its young leaves are added to salads.
The leaves which form a ground hugging rosette are deeply lobed and are supposed to resemble lions’ teeth. The name “dandelion” is derived from the French words dent de lion which mean lion’s teeth. (4a;4b).
The fluffy seed heads or “clocks” are carried far and wide by the wind and this is one reason why it is such a successful coloniser of waste places. Each seed is attached to a tiny parachute called a pappus. Goldfinches are particularly fond of the seeds (5).