The Life Cycle of a Dandelion
It all starts with a seed. The seed of a dandelion is about 1/8 inch long, and if conditions are ideal the seed will begin to germinate (grow) right on top of the soil’s surface. Germination is more likely to happen if the soil is moist and has a temperature near 77 degrees F; however, seeds can still grow in soil temperatures as low as 50 degrees F. The more light, the more likely the seeds will germinate. The seedling stage, which is when the plant is first forming a crown of leaves near the ground (but before a stalk rises and forms a flower), lasts about eight to 15 weeks. At this same time, roots are growing into the soil several inches deep.
The dandelion can form a long hallow stalk that is 6 to 24 inches in length with a flower on top soon after the seedling stage. On top of the stalk grows a yellow flower head. Before this happens, dandelion plants can be mowed over or chomped on by grazing animals, but they will still thrive and will eventually grow flowers when given the opportunity. In fact, dandelion plants can grow over the years to be as large as 10 inches in diameter. Once the stalks do grow, dandelion flowers will grow.
Dandelion flowers change and develop into tiny seeds. (Dandelions are asexual, so they do not need pollination to reproduce.) The seeds are attached to structures that are shaped like parachutes called pappuses. When the wind blows, the pappuses carry the seeds for miles. The seeds land and the cycle begins again if conditions are right. In the meantime, the original dandelion plants go dormant in cold weather or keep on flowering in warm weather to make even more seeds.
The common dandelion is considered by many gardeners to be a nuisance, although it is frequently cultivated and harvested for its nutritional properties. This bloom closes after each sundown and reopens at dawn until the dandelion begins to dry out, at which point the petals begin to fall off. The pappi grow into a delicate sphere and each one releases its seed to the wind or other forces with little resistance. They can also help seeds attach themselves to animals, insects, humans or other objects that may come into contact with rooted dandelions or airborne seeds. This is the same reason why they can easily grow out of control in the wild; in most cases, a wind-borne seed just has to work its way down among a few blades of grass to reach the surface of the soil.