You may think you know everything there is to know about the dandelion flower (Taraxacum officinale). Perhaps you are one of those homeowners who wage constant battle against its bright yellow flowers and fluffy white seed heads. But this oh-so-common flower has a long history and some interesting applications.
The toothed edges of the dandelion's leaves give the plant its common name. “Dandelion” comes from the French “dent de lion," meaning tooth of the lion.
The dandelion is a composite flower, or two flowers in one--it has ray flowers and disk flowers. What we think of as its “petals” are actually ray flowers. The disk flowers are tubular and tightly held in the middle of the flower (daisies and sunflowers are other examples of the same type of flower).
The dandelion has been used as a medicine since at least Roman times. Young leaves of the plant can serve as greens, the root as a coffee substitute, and the flowers to make wine.The dandelion was used in traditional medicine to treat problems of the liver, and it is still sometimes prescribed to stimulate the appetite and as a diuretic.
The dandelion can form fertile seeds without pollination. After fertilization, the flower head closes and fruiting bodies (which we call the seeds) are formed in the shape of a globe. The merest breeze carries the seeds away.
Dandelions are smart. Their response to frequent mowing is to grow flowers on shorter stalks. As anyone who tries to keep a lawn free of weeds knows, the dandelion’s long tap root must be removed completely or the plant will come right back.
Dandelions are sensitive to light. The flowers close at night and remain closed on a very cloudy day.