By Larry Hodgson
Many years ago, some local officials asked me to take a dignitary from Haiti on a tour of nearby gardens. Apparently, she loved plants and gardens and, being from a tropical country, was eager to see what gardeners in my cold, snowy part of the world could possibly grow. Arrangements were made with a few gardeners known to have lovely private gardens and off we went for the day, into the countryside to visit these charming places.
The weather was perfect, the sky was deep blue with beautiful fluffy white clouds, and everything was green and lush, colorful as in any land that has just sprung out of a long, cold winter can be. Also, the garden owners were charming and so proud of their beautiful gardens. It was really a perfect day from start to finish and it just flew by.
On the way back, she seemed very pleased with her day. “But what I loved best were those incredible fields of beautiful yellow flowers!”, she insisted. I must have looked stunned. I couldn’t figure out what she was talking about. There had been flower beds, a formal French parterre, a rock garden and two water gardens, a greenhouse and … well, the list just went on and on. But fields of flowers? We hadn’t visited anything like that. What in the world was she talking about?
Beauty Beyond the Garden
Seeing my confusion, she tried to explain. “You know, not the gardens, but the fields, on all those rolling mountains, as we drove along. All those wonderful yellow blooms! They were just stunning!”
I still didn’t get it … at first. Then it dawned on me. She meant the fields full of dandelions. Yes, fields of weeds!
“Oh, Madame,” I answered. “Those would be dandelions. They’re considered weeds. Nobody likes them! We spray herbicides on them to try and kill them. Most gardeners loathe them!”
It was her turn to look astonished. “Well,” she said. “I’m shocked! If you could put those flowers into pots, you could sell them by the thousands in Haiti! You’d make a fortune!”
And then we had a good laugh!
Something So Simple
And do you know something? She was absolutely right. Those fields were breathtakingly gorgeous. How blind I had been never to have noticed before.
Now, wherever I hear gardeners make disparaging remarks about dandelions, I remember that day. And I dream about opening a dandelion nursery in Haiti!
Here is the bee expert I follow. Dandelions don’t, in fact, serve the 4,200 species of bees we have in North America, no matter how pretty they are (they ARE), and no matter how many memes you read in social media. I did some work to find out why that was happening, and it seems those originated where dandelions are native. https://www.ecobeneficial.com/videos/bees-native-forage-heather-holm/
Marian, thanks for writing that, I mean in particular the somewhat anti-dandelion stance that doesn’t come from being annoyed by their lawn presence.
I shopped at a native plant nursery the other year located in a rural area, and the meadow of locally native wildflowers surrounding the nursery was stunning. It’s kind of a shame in my mind that the sight is so rare and that the foreigners described by people on this post liked dandelions instead—not because their ideas on beauty are wrong of course, but because the main kinds of wildflowers around are dandelion and garlic mustard instead of the plethora that should be there.
Thank you so much! I am more “don’t spread them and plant a variety of natives instead”. By all means eat them! But please don’t spread them, as they are taking up both wild areas and lawns all over the world that could have far more productive and diverse plants on them supporting hundreds more species.
Dandelions (and their many look-alikes) are invasive globally…I look at a field of dandelions and sadly imagine the life it COULD support. I know one of the reasons people want to shove acceptance of them down our throats is that too many people spray them with herbicides, which I agree are heavily overused, especially in lawn, forestry, and food production.
Giving a “pass” on dandelions misses the point that we should actually analyze our physical use and need of lawns and only have them where we are regularly outside…not rip every single other plant off every inch of our properties as seems to be the way here in Nova Scotia. “Oh let’s move to this beautiful area of nature!” But God forbid any of it be anywhere near the house! That is insane to me. Insane for anyone who cares about birds, butterflies or having children interested in being outside or the natural world in general. Lawns have historically been seen as some kind of a status symbol, representing “civilized”…they should represent “boring”, “unimaginative”, “consumptive”, and, to be fair, “no time for anything but work.” To me they represent “depauperate” which is a word people should know and understand, because it is the world we are making.
Depauperate: adjective BIOLOGY
(of a flora, fauna, or ecosystem) lacking in numbers or variety of species.
I think bee experts who recommend dandelions on lawns must be looking with the perspective of their specialized area of study, and it is not the experts of our 800 species of native bees that are saying this. Many harmless non-stinging bees are specialists on one or just a few plants. it is those who support the domestic honey bee, that tend to talk that way but honey bees are generalists and will happily visit native plants too.
I too have come to love the intrepid dandelion. It is a symbol of beauty and exuberance in the face of adversity.We all know how we can mow the lawn, and half an hour later, there are the dandelion flowers; edible, beloved of pollinators. Their only fault is that they don’t make good cut flowers. I can live with that.
To get an visual (pretty) appreciation for the diversity native plant meadows provide around the planet, check this article out. Homogenizing them with one or two invasive species would be a travesty. I live where there are still native wildflowers, so I dig them and any plant that either takes up large areas or diverts the pollinators from the native plants preventing them from reproducing, and that includes the species I mentioned above given the amount of the world they already monopolize. I don’t hate them or blame them for their success…I just make room for native plants, and the birds and butterflies follow…it is that simple. https://www.gardensillustrated.com/plants/where-in-the-world-to-see-wild-flowers-from-the-experts-who-know/
I cannot really edit this, but I meant “I dig the dandelions and their allies”. Sorry. I am constantly haunted by the dread “vague antecedent”.
I am definitely “on the wagon” for considering dandelions (also coltsfoot, and most of the hawkweeds) pretty and useful plants. Every plant is a miracle of evolution with complex ways of reproducing itself. They are amazing. But given its world-wide distribution as a non-native species, and the fact that humans manipulate, disturb, and simply occupy many of the sunny open places that would otherwise be diverse meadows, no.
I will take the meadows of the West with Camass, Bear Grass, Indian Paintbrush, Lupines, penstemons, etc. And in the Midwest coneflowers, harebells, prairie smoke, etc. And in the East, wild strawberry, asters, goldenrods, and blue eyed grass….and in all three locations different species of native grasses, sedges and ferns. I think it is rather tragic when I see a huge mass of dandelions and try to imagine the multicolored beauty that existed there before the introduction of this species. It is no wonder we have fewer birds and butterflies. I cannot “unsee” that the dandelion could not possibly fill the shoes of all these other plants…or serve nearly as many species.
Yet, when happy, each can take up a square foot of space. They have an ability called allelopathy to suppress the growth of other plants. They can reproduce without bees. They are, in ecologies foreign to their origin, not, the first choice of our thousands of species of native bees, and do not meet the same nutritional needs. They do not support a host of caterpillars that all these (100s) of other species of plants would if they had not been out-competed by the introduced species.
Many many caterpillars need specific native plants to survive: their mouth parts do not let them eat other kinds of plants…their ability to overcome co-evolved native plants’ specific chemical defenses means they can’t just switch to dandelions if that is all there is. And personally, from the “pretty” perspective, when I travel in the boreal longitudes of the world, I should be quite sad if they all looked alike with dandelions…because I would know that what should be there is not there any longer. The actual bee experts are telling us that we need our diversity of native plants…and they are just as (if not more so) beautiful, offering a rainbow of colours, shapes, and sizes. Pretty is as pretty does.
Weed: a plant out of place.
Well, I totally get it.
Tourists used to come to the Santa Clara Valley to see the orchards in bloom. The mustard on the ground below the orchards is also spectacular during summer. Tourists still go to see fall color in your region. (I hope to eventually get there also.)
My colleague down south left for his vacation in Hawaii at about the same time that I returned from mine in Oregon and Washington. He sent me more pictures than I needed to see. Although interesting, I did not find them to be any more interesting than what I saw in Oregon and Washington, or even what I seen in the Mojave Desert. Some of the prettiest plants in all locations are either common or weeds, or both.
This reminds of a Vietnamese student I had many years ago. She loved dandelions. She told me that all they had in Vietnam were orchids.
Ah, hahahaha! So true…humans are fascinated by novelty. I grew up where there was no snow…so I love it (giggle).
We were driving around with my three year old grandson in the rear seat looking for a field of local wildflowers when we heard “oh beautiful “ from the back. I turned to look and there was a huge field of dandelion puffs.
Lovely post, and look how many comments there are in support of the incredibly useful dandelion. I have loved this flower my whole life, but do remove it from some of my garden beds. They are alive and crowded in my forest garden – on the edges.
So very true. Even the humble dandelion has beauty.
What a great story ! We need to appreciate the simple things ….even dandelions.
That was a good story. Like Judy, I’m thankful I live in a rural area and don’t have the peer pressure to remove dandelions from the lawn. They are a welcome sign of spring. But like Helen, I pull them out of the garden beds. However, I’ve noticed it’s become quite trendy to grow other species of dandelion in one’s garden. I believe there is a pink one and a white one.
I once dreamed about becoming a dandelion hybridizer. My goal would have been non-stop bloomers, all sterile, in a wide range of colors. I never did get around to it!
That is a fun idea, but while “sterile” would make people happy, it would mean less food for pollinators, lol. As our understanding of the world and our (heavy) impact upon it is being realized and expressed succinctly by scientific understanding, the goal posts change…hopefully, before it is too late.
As an “ecologist/designer” I am fascinated by the human eye for straight lines, monolithic spaces, and repetitive elements as an expression of our culture. Somewhere along the way we lost natural curves, textures, colors, and varying shapes and sizes. I have always had crazy wonderful layered, season-long blooming gardens and a little patch of lawn for sitting in my (maintained above ankle level) grass…this takes more thinking, but not much more physical effort than mowing…just some concentrated bursts in the (very late) spring and occasional editing.
I feel as she does about dandelions. They are quite beautiful, even when they go to seed. That doesn’t stop me from yanking out their seedlings from my garden.
During the years I lived in subdivisions, I dug up every one of the dandelions as soon as they showed their color. Now, living in a more rural area, I glance at them, enjoy their bright color, and hope the insects enjoy them as well. Everything is relative. ?
Good morning. I loved that story. Sometimes we do miss the beauty that is all around us!
Great post. Dandelions are incredible at most stages of growth and edible too, from coffee to salads. They just proliferate too easily. I have to worry about “gardeners” who spend hours removing every microscopic plant they have decided to label as the enemy. Their garden is a few plants dotted about in swathes of bare soil. They miss so much that comes for free.
Lovely eye-opening article – I ll never forget the orchards and pastures in Norway covered in carpets of dandelions when I visited end of May/beginning June all those 50+ years ago.
I suspect with global warming one woukd need to be there earlier innthe year now.