The Misunderstood Weed

May 7, 2020

“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”

 

Like Rodney Dangerfield, dandelions get no respect. Who doesn’t think of them as just menacing weeds that take over the lawn in springtime? The bane of their existence, homeowners and gardeners wage war with the pesky plants that threaten to destroy their perfectly coiffed, country-club-looking lawn. They constantly pull up or destroy these unwelcome living things under the blades of their lawn mower, wishing and hoping they will disappear forever. But these much maligned “weeds” are fast growing and resilient, so any attempt to keep them at bay or hasten their demise is futile. Ironically, any effort to eliminate these stubborn invasives makes them produce even more. 

 

It may, or may not, come as a surprise that these weeds are not weeds at all. They are flowers - one of the first flowers of spring, and one of the last to go in the fall. They are perennials that will come back year after year after year, to haunt you, whether you like it or not - no matter how hard you try to eliminate them. Yes, they are here to stay!  Did you know that because of the sharp leaves, the word dandelion literally translates into “lion’s tooth” in French (dent-de-lion)? Critical information if you're ever a contestant on Jeopardy. "French for 500."

 

Yet, while these happy, humble, sunshiny buttons get no respect, they are extremely valuable. Dandelions are actually very healthy for your lawn and fertilize your grass. Hungry bees, after they awake from their winter slumber, feast on the abundant pollen and nectar. In fact, it is critical for their survival, as well as many other pollinators.

 

Those now ubiquitous commercials for Round Up that we see all over television, trying to convince us of the evils of dandelions, make me crazy. They are just plain wrong and I will not be fooled.

 

Those bright buttons in your backyard - and front yard, and side yard - also hold a plethora of nutritional value. It's a veritable medicine cabinet outside your door. Both the leaf and flower are edible. (Why did I just have a flashback to Euell Gibbons and the Grape Nuts commercial? "Ever eat a pine tree? Many parts are edible.") Throw them in fresh salads and impress your dinner guests!  They'll get a good dose of Vitamins A, E, C, K, calcium and much more.  Oh, and the wine! We can't forget the wine. Dandelions can be used to make a little hooch. Hoo doesn't like hooch? Your tipsy guests will be coming back for more. 

 

Now, let's look beyond their practical value to another one of their virtues.

 

“When you look at a field of dandelions you can either see a field of weeds, or a field of wishes.” 

 

One recent evening, when the peeping peepers made their musical debut, and twilight came a little later, I was roaming around my yard, looking at my flower gardens that were just starting to come to life. I came upon a large mass of dandelions that were nearing their final stage - when the dried heads have gone to seed, and they look like silvery-white, fuzzy puff balls. The sheer, globe-like heads resembled the moon, I thought. En masse, these simplest of flowers looked like a brilliant fireworks display set against a dark green sky.

 

In a moment of mindfulness, I crouched down in the patch to fully examine the tallest one, up close and personal. It was really quite stunning to me, so delicate and symmetrical; a piece of artwork, I thought.

 

I pulled it up from the ground, and then, like a child, made a wish and gently blew on the silky head, and watched the filaments float into the wind, carried off like parachutes and disperse their seeds, seeds that can travel far and wide for miles. Who doesn’t remember doing this as a child, believing our wishes would really come true? Teasingly, we would blow them into the faces of our friends, family and even the dog, only to have them wave us away with a look of annoyance.

 

I repeated this process over and over, until the sea of white in my yard was gone, and only the stubborn forest-green leaves remained in the ground. When I finished plucking and blowing on all those puff balls, I figured my odds were pretty good of at least one wish coming true. I also knew full well that I was contributing to the proliferation of these misunderstood, unwanted, figurative red-headed stepchildren, throughout my neighborhood. I, however, secretly knew that I was doing my unsuspecting neighbors a favor. They just didn't know it.

 

When the golden heads of the dandelion begin to suddenly pop up all around your yard - your yard that you painstakingly work on to keep dandelion-free and golf course green, try looking at them through a different lense. Try to see and appreciate their virtues. Tame the desire to destroy the innocent spots of sunshine that dot your yard. Tone down the urge to obliterate them. Remember, it's impossible. So waive the white flag. Surrender to their presence and accept that they have more control over your lawn than you do.

 

Who knows? Maybe you'll even learn to love this nutritious, medicinal, and magical weed; this uniquely beautiful - and fun - flower. And someday, maybe, just maybe, when you see a field of dandelions, you will see them for what they really are - a field of wishes, not a field of weeds.

 

 

 

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