OPINION: March of the dandelions

Some folks worry that in the future extraterrestrial beings might invade Earth. But it’s apparent the alien invasion has already occurred: dandelions! They are everywhere, this summer more than ever.

According to some, this most prolific of flowering plants, of the genus Taraxacum, has definitely been given a bum rap over the years and labeled a “weed.” It is quite edible and widely known for its medicinal properties.

The word dandelion is derived from the French, dent de lion, meaning “lion’s tooth,” because of the jagged shape of its leaves. The leaves can be eaten as a salad and dried into a form of tea. The dandelion’s tap root is edible, and the yellow flowers can even be dipped in batter and deep fried. And, of course, there is dandelion wine.

As an antioxidant, dandelions are known to combat harmful free radicals, reduce inflammation and boost the immune system. Some sources say they treat kidney disease.

Dandelions are among the first flowering plants in summer; thus, they are considered important to bees. Over the years, however, I’ve stood in large fields of dandelions and never spotted a single bee. I’ve seldom passed by flowering lupines or wild geraniums without seeing bees buzzing around.

Bears are known to dine on dandelions. Recent bear sightings at the Eagle River Nature Center confirm this.

Admittedly, I’ve been at war with dandelions for many years. Acknowledging the aforesaid benefits of dandelions, I admit feeling some guilt over my aggression. In fact, dandelions could be called the Rodney Dangerfield of the plant kingdom, seldom getting any respect. They can grow in gravel and even penetrate concrete cracks! I’ve seen dandelion tap roots eight and nine inches long. Each dandelion plant can produce about 10 flower heads. A single plant can produce up to 2,000 seeds, creating exponential growth. And a plant’s lifespan can reach more than 10 years!


And the invasion has traveled far. During past hikes in Alaska’s backcountry — from Lost Lake on the Kenai Peninsula to Crow Pass and deep into the valleys of Eagle River and south of Eklutna Lake — we never saw them. But about 15 years ago, it seems the “dandies” started increasing their range. About that time the U.S. Forest Service began installing boot brushes at trailheads to prevent hikers from tracking dandelion seeds into the wild. Dog paws also carry the seeds. Obviously, it isn’t just wind that transports dandelion seeds over long distances.

I don’t like using chemicals anywhere, let alone on my lawn. So, while out on my lawn recently, trying to get to the root of things, I could almost hear the dandelions whispering to me in a derisive, menacing tone: “You’re a fool to think you can get rid of us. For every one of us you pluck out of the ground, there will be 20 more!”

And I’m beginning think they’re right. In my neighborhood, along the Glenn and Seward and Parks highways and now into the backcountry, dandelions are on the march. I once had a neighbor get quite incensed with me after I cut his dandelions, hoping to stop their intrusion into my yard.

In the morning when the sun’s first rays beam into my yard, the little yellow flowers pop out with a defiant “Hi, here I am!” You know you’ve got a problem when you start thinking flowers are talking.

Maybe the dandelions would respect me more if I left their roots alone and harvested their leaves for salad. And why whine, when there’s always the wine?

Frank E. Baker is a lifelong Alaskan and freelance writer who lives in Eagle River.

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Frank Baker

Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River.