Celebrating the Wild Side of Yorkshire’s Coast & Country:
The Lion’s Teeth – the time of the Dandelion
Across great swathes of grasslands and especially along roadsides the humble dandelion is, for a short time, taking top billing. This may be the time of the Chelsea Flower Show, but across the landscape, there is a free and spectacular flower show to be had from one of our best known but most overlooked plants. This is the time of the dandelion.
Yet I wonder if it is just me, but this spring seems to have been magnificent for the common dandelion. This scourge of gardeners across Yorkshire and the wider region is blooming. In some places, the seed heads are already full and soon the air will be full of tiny parachute seeds blowing this way and that across the landscape. Mostly, for the myriad seeds, they will fail. However, enough will survive to wreak havoc in lawns and borders everywhere. Now though, for a few glorious weeks, they provide a spectacle that we often simply overlook – the beauty of the commonplace.
Especially when mixed with common daisies and cuckoo flower the dandelions are extraordinarily beautiful. The common name comes from the French ‘Dent de Lion’, the teeth of the lion and is from the jagged edged leaves. Taraxacum officinale, to give it the scientific name, is really a group or complex of a great many ‘micro-species’, of interest only to rather sad specialist botanists who enjoy ‘splitting’ rather than ‘lumping’ their plants. Yes, sad and lonely but then somebody has to do it, and there are over 200 of them to go at. Being a widely known flower the dandelion has plenty of common names and many of these relate to the diuretic herbal qualities of the plant when eaten. The common names include Jack-piss-the-bed, Pissy Beds, Pittley-beds, Peasant’s Clock, Wet-the-bed, Tiddle-beds, Dog’s Posy, Old Man’s Clock, Swine’s Snout, and others. As children in Sheffield, we told that the white sap of the dandelion flower stalks could be used to cure warts. Apparently, this was told to my parents by a travelling gypsy herbalist; although sadly, it did not work!
In his wonderful book, the Flora Britannica, Richard Mabey notes that despite the herbal side-effects, both leaves and flowers of dandelion are widely used in cooking, with dandelion pasta, pickled dandelions, dandelion and mozzarella pie, to mention just a few. Apparently, dandelion leaves lightly fried with rat’s-tail plantain is a delicious treat, but I am not convinced. However, the ephemeral but stunning glory of the Lion’s Teeth is surely to be celebrated on motorway verges, urban ring roads, country lanes, and in rural meadows all over Yorkshire. Soon the local flower displays will be cruelly mown down; there one day but sacrificed to the short grass and blandness the next. Last year, the cuckooflower or lady’s smock, had barely emerged before the spinning blades hacked it to death, and I expect the same this year. The orange-tip and green-veined white butterflies were certainly not amused and headed for the garlic mustard and honesty that, being closer to the hedge bank, escaped the botanical genocide. Along with the cuckooflower, these are the favoured egg-lying plants for the spring white butterflies.
Ian Rotherham, Writer, Broadcaster, Professor of Environmental Geography, Reader in Tourism & Environmental Change