/The plant we love to hate

The plant we love to hate

By Jim Poling Sr.

There’s a shortage of everything this COVID-19 spring. Everything from lumber to foodstuffs to ATVs and nursing home rooms.

Everything is on back order; everything except – dandelions. There are billions and billions and billions of them. It’s a dandelion world, with those bright yellow petals turning to white seed puffs that hitchhike a breeze and parachute into new patches to create colonies of billions more.

“Dandelion don’t tell no lies,” The Rolling Stones sang.  “Dandelion will make you wise . . . . Blow away dandelion, blow away dandelion.”
Pretty impressive to have the Stones write a song about you.

Even without the musical fame the dandelion is highly impressive, despite being the most hated plant in our manicured neighbourhoods. 
The dandelion is a plant world overlord, unchallenged in its ability to survive and repopulate. A dandelion plant can live for 10 to 13 years, with each flower head producing multitudes of blow-away seeds every year. A plant with three or four flower heads produces thousands of breeze-riding seeds, many of which can become new plants.

The dandelion’s nutritive roots go deep into history, possibly tens of thousands of years, but certainly back to the times of ancient civilizations in Egypt, China and Rome. Its roots and leaves were important sources of medicine in early civilizations.
It is hard to believe while looking out over a field of millions of them, but dandelions are not native to North America. They were brought here by European settlers for food and medicine.
The plant is believed to have been brought to Canada by French settlers whose name for it was dent-de-lion – lion’s tooth because of its saw-toothed leaves.

Dandelions are said to have more helpful vitamins than many vegetables and were used by settlers for stomach and liver problems and a variety of other ailments. They were used to make teas, root beer, coffee substitutes and salads.
Dandelion tonics remain popular with some people, but their numbers have declined since the home remedy era gave way to the pharmaceutical industry.  

Interestingly, modern research has found that dandelion extracts have antiviral properties, and may reduce the ability of viruses to reproduce. There has been some research and discussion about dandelion extract being able to kill some types of cancer cells but there is no conclusive evidence yet.
Not enough human thought and energy has been spent on finding all the benefits of dandelions and trying to make use of them. 

There have been some important initiatives. Ford Motor Company 20 years ago began using crushed dandelion roots (some species contain natural rubber latex) to make synthetic rubber for auto parts. 
Continental Tires has been using dandelion root in bike tires and other companies are working on ways to make dandelion rubber commercially viable. Soon, the tires your auto rides on might be made from dandelions.
However, most of our time, energy and resources have been spent trying to eradicate them.

Eradication of dandelions is a loser’s game. Not only has the plant a relatively long life, its growth rate is fast. The flower head can go from bud to seeds in a matter of days.
Its leaves thrive in barren habitats, pushing their way through heavy gravel and cracked concrete. 
The painstaking work of cutting the roots with a blade and pulling the plants from the ground is not guaranteed effective. Just a small piece of root left in the ground can grow a new dandelion.
Chemicals are the only really effective weapon for killing dandelions, but many jurisdictions have banned them because of their danger to the environment and human health.

Some weary veterans of dandelion wars are thinking the unthinkable: waving the white flag. They are not exactly learning to love dandelions, just taking a deep breath and accepting them.

Some have joined the No Mow May movement, which encourages property owners not to cut their lawns in May. The idea of the movement, started by the United Kingdom, is to let lawns grow wild with flowering plants that help pollinating insects such as bees and butterflies.

Dandelions, which hit their peak in May, will love that, but the neighbours might have a different view.