An ode to the dandelion, an unfairly maligned but pesky perennial

Dandelions have our attention this time of year, don’t they? How could they not given the huge flush of flowers that has just ended. Our highways and byways are full of them. So are our lawns, hopefully.

Like most of us, I was taught that dandelions are evil weeds. My first bad experience with them was trying to get the latex sap off my hands after I spent a hour picking flowers. I was a toddler and thought I was helping my father, who was constantly at war with dandelions. Shortly thereafter, I was given a wooden-handled dandelion fork which I still have.

In all of history, no other flower has been so maltreated. Basically one company is responsible. It spent a tremendous amount of money brainwashing Americans into thinking a weed-free lawn was the only acceptable lawn and that you are a slovenly slob and a bad neighbor if you allow dandelions to break the green grass monoculture. It still pushes that vision, but it is going to finally lose.

Some French gardener thought their leaves resembled lions’ teeth and named these plants “dent-de-lions,” dandelion in English. Frankly, I don’t see it. It is the flowers that I would have concentrated on. Each blossom contains up to 300 seeds. Are there more than in previous years?

The half-life of a dandelion seed in a lawn is about three months, though some can germinate after five years of lying around. And, a dandelion plant can live 15 years. Do the math on the number of flowers that would result in. Three hundred seeds per plant?! That settles the question of whether we have more dandelions this year than last. Of course we do.

Oddly enough, dandelions are not really considered invasive. In order to get that rating the plants would have to destroy other plants in the habitat they move into. This does not happen. Dandelions may fill a lawn, but they don’t replace the grass. That is why we are told to just let the grass grow and it will smother out these weeds. It really doesn’t work that way, however.

Frankly, we simply have to let go and accept the dandelion. I know there are some benefits to having them. For a while my mother tried to kick her coffee habit by drinking dandelion tea. It isn’t bad. This week, dig up some roots, let them dry and then seep in boiling water to see what the story is.


And I have been treated to a dandelion-based salad. It wasn’t that much of a culinary hit and I have not tried one again. It might have been the chickweed that was mixed in. Ah, but tempura dandelion flowers? That is a real delicacy worthy of the finest Japanese meal.

Anyhow, the big spring dandelion flush is over. We may have another if the weather is any good this summer. Obviously, dandelions are not going to disappear in the meantime. No amount of hand-weeding, no attempts at using a herbicide, nothing will eradicate this plant. If you don’t like to see their flowers in your lawn, mow them down.

The bottom line is that dandelions are here to stay. The monoculture lawn is not. And try as you might to get rid of them on your property, you will fail. It is time to change the way we look at the American lawn. Frankly, it is already happening and that is a good thing.

Jeff’s Alaska Gardening Calendar:

Alaska Botanical Garden: Do you get the newsletter that tells you what is going on at The Garden? You should. Join. And don’t forget The Alaska Botanical Garden is THE place to take off those pesky visitors from Outside.

Clean up: OK, gardens are in. Time to clean up and store the stuff you used to get them done. All those pots and cell packs, buckets, tools and stakes need to be put away now.

Tomatoes: Water from the bottom. Deep watering is better than daily dousing.

Jeff Lowenfels

Jeff Lowenfels has written a weekly gardening column for the ADN for more than 45 years. His columns won the 2022 gold medal at the Garden Communicators International conference. He is the author of a series of books on organic gardening available at Amazon and elsewhere. He co-hosts the "Teaming With Microbes" podcast.