By Zahra Nasir
They pop up in the most unexpected places and can, this is extraordinary, even manage to grow up through solid concrete when they put their determination to survive in to serious action.
Commonly known as ‘dandelions’ and botanically under the rather grand title of Taraxicum officinale these incredible plants, so often referred to as nothing more than ordinary weeds, are found the length and breadth of this climatically diverse country but are, admittedly, far more numerous in the cooler northern regions than in the often scorching heat of the plains.
Deep rooted perennial plants — perennial means that they keep on growing, from the same root, year after year — dandelions quickly colonise neglected wastelands, roadside verges, are viewed as a garden pest in some parts of the country and as a serious nuisance in agricultural areas and, due to the bitter taste of mature plants, grazing animals leave them well alone unless they are desperate for something to nibble on.
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At various times of the year, but more especially during the balmy days of spring, dandelions suddenly burst into flower. Their multi-petal, brilliant golden heads is a dazzling and beautiful sight to see whether there are just a few growing close together or when growing so thickly on roadsides that they almost smother the brilliant new green of the grass.
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They belong to the huge family of plants classified as umbellifrae. This word sounds very similar to the word ‘umbrella’ for a good reason — all members of this plant, be they very tiny or incredibly tall growing and huge, have one basic common denominator which is that they form seed heads. These often consist of lots and lots of small, individual seed heads, arranged in a manner the same, or very close to, the spokes of an umbrella and the name ‘umbrella’ is actually taken from the name of this family of plants.
The individual seeds making up these umbrellas are each topped with what looks exactly white fluff and, when the wind blows, even very lightly, if the seed heads are fully ripe, they blow or float away in whichever direction the wind carries them and, if they are lucky, they come in to land in a suitable place to germinate and, ultimately, grow into new plants.
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Dandelion seed heads are loved by children — by adults too when children aren’t looking — as there is a story, a very old one, which says that you can tell the time by how many puffs it takes to blow every single seed off a dandelion head and it’s a great fun to put this into practice. Next time you seed a dandelion head, give this game a try, but please wash your hands very thoroughly afterwards as the white sap that comes out of the broken stem, whilst not harmful, really does taste awful!
Published on: 5/18/2013