Botany

Plant History how Dandelions came to North America



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Everyone knows the tough and determined dandelion. The Taraxacum officinale, or the common dandelion, is undoubtedly the most easily recognizable plant in America. It makes its home from coast to coast, and, depending on how you feel about it, it is either seen as a persistent, invasive weed, or a beneficial, lovely, little yellow flower.

Every year, gardeners spend time and money trying to rid their lawns of dandelions. Perennial, easily grown, hearty, and tolerant of almost any weather, they bloom at a moment’s notice, and spread across a field or lawn overnight.

The dandelion is known for its distinctive three to twelve inch long leaves with a well defined tooth, the yellow head, composed of hundreds of individual rays, and the fluffy round white seed head, which is easily blown away and dispersed by the wind.

According to tradition, the dandelion, a native of Europe and Asia, takes its name from several sources, possibly stemming from an ancient Greek word, leontodon, or lion’s tooth. It may also come from the French word dent-de-lion, which means the same thing. The official term, Taraxacum officinale, originated from the Greek words, taraxos and akos, which mean disorde and remedy. The second word, officinale indicates that it is used in the treatment of various ailments.

Tradition also has it that the first dandelions were brought to the U.S. mainland as a means of providing nectar to honey bees. However, since, dandelion seeds grow so prolifically, it could have made the ocean crossing in any number of ways. Since it has been on the American continent since the 17th century at least, it is likely that early pilgrims and settlers brought the seed with them, either intentionally or unintentionally.

There are reports that the dandelion has been used for centuries in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, for a variety of purposes. Even today, the young tender leaves are used much like lettuce, and the plant is also used for wine making, or, in England and Canada, for producing an herbal beer. Medicinally, it has been used to treat skin conditions, arthritis, gall stones, sore throats, and numerous other maladies. It has also been used as a sedative, and a diuretic.

However the lowly dandelion managed to get to the New World, it was utilized widely by native Americans and newcomers alike, who welcomed it as a food source and medicinal ingredient.  


"Dandelion." The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. Web. 22 Feb.2011. <http://www.woodrow.org/teachers/bi/2000/Ethnobotany/dandelion.html>.

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