Friday, May 9, 2008

Vive la dent-de-lion

The cleverness of the dandelion is remarkable. It is so much more than people realise. Here now, we have gone through a flowering cycle.

In the city, lawns and fields that have not been aggressively mowed or chemically controlled have had this plant run free. An otherwise clean portion of grass, devoid of wildfowers and many weeds that break up the consistent hue and tint have seen this herb.

I look at the green, and see, interspersed, the bright yellow heads. Some yards when in full bloom have a greater preponderance of yellow than green. On days that are rainy and overcast or at twilight, or at gloaming, you have these two strong, deep and bright colors unbleached by strong and excessive light and glare. That is why green and yellow appear with stoplights. I enjoy those clean colors. But, a fecund transformation arises. Hollow stalks shoot up.The collection of yellow flowers that make up a head transform into a puffball of seeds. They scatter, bloody well, everywhere. The bare stalks remain. When darkness falls and headlights shine on the lawn, an army of ugly stalks are sighted, some completely bare, some partially, and some with seed and fluff entire intact .

When I was a small child, my father impressed upon me a disdain for thoughtless superstition. Children of my cohort had all sort of nonsense they professed to believe in. One of the damnedest, was to tear a dandelion stalk and puffball, and then blow the seeds and fluff away. It may be enjoyable to watch the initial separation and the course of the flight path, but the idiocy was to plead a wish upon this action. To a child of a pious Catholic family, with a strong willed father, this was to exhort to a conjuring.

My father came to this land, knowing of the plant, but unaware of the silly folklore attached by some children to the puffball. The indians were gone from the land. The later arrived nations did not have this ceremony. Did these children inherit their belief from an unlettered, uncivilised, hillbilly background? Pagan superstition (sueverie, cuprnija), it was in his revered opinion. My lack of credence in the efficacy to their, then, sincere ritual did not endear me to my playmates. It was easier, and to my self-interest, to refrain from their enlightenment.

Now, this plant was an immigrant to the new world as were we. Somewhere in the centuries back, the anglais transmogrified ‘dent-de-lion’, tooth of the lion, into dandelion. It was not the flowers, but the long serrated leaves that named the plant. The french, still, prize certain varieties as cultivated salad.

Now, not only the seeds, but the root and the stalk and the timing all promote this plant. I spoke to a professor of biology, that was fond of the term ‘opportunistic plants’. I said, “weeds ”. He was not pleased. He explained how a plant colonises an area. In different works, our friend, the dent-de-lion, is described as a persistent or nearly ubiquitous or hard to eradicate weed. It is highly successful, insult it or admire it, it still carries on.

It has a taproot, that can grow deeper than its height. That root has side roots. That long root gathers water, secures a hold in the earth and can regenerate its removed greenery. The seed will sprout in any crack and break up rock or asphalt to grow. This root can be harvested as a chicory substitute, which is a substitute for coffee. It makes itself valuable. I have had wine from its flowers, well mostly apple and grape with dandelion added.

That stalk can lay flat to the ground, or grow past and through other plants, so as to raise its head in the open. And from that vantage to catch the wind for dispersal.

Now they are out in flocks, but at anytime of the year one can sprout. This year, immediately after New Year’s Day, when a heavy snow was melted, there was dent-de-lion in bloom. Mow the lawn, the next day fresh ones will appear. Go out and physically remove every one you see, and to-morrow there are more.

Sometimes, you can enjoy a couple days of yellow. You have time to catch it when it telescopes out. You see the yellow flowers have become ovaries, but it needs no pollination. Its puff fluff has not formed. But, overnight, or less, you can find a bare stalk, when the day before there was neither flower nor leaf visible. Yes, dent-de-lion wins, even if you pay one of the many, aggressively, annoying, competing uniformed or not, lawn services to drench your yard with chemical treatments.

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