|A dandelion flower head composed of hundreds of smaller florets (top) and seed head (bottom)|
F. H. Wigg.
|Taraxacum officinale 
F. H. Wigg.
Taraxacum // is a large genus of flowering plants in the family Asteraceae. They are native to Eurasia and North and South America, and two species, T. officinale and T. erythrospermum, are found as weeds worldwide. Both species are edible in their entirety. The common name dandelion (// DAN-di-ly-ən, from French dent-de-lion, meaning "lion's tooth") is given to members of the genus, and like other members of the Asteraceae family, they have very small flowers collected together into a composite flower head. Each single flower in a head is called a floret. Many Taraxacum species produce seeds asexually by apomixis, where the seeds are produced without pollination, resulting in offspring that are genetically identical to the parent plant.
- 1 Description
- 2 Classification
- 3 History
- 4 Names
- 5 Properties
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
The leaves are 5–25 cm long or longer, simple and basal, entire or lobed, forming a rosette above the central taproot. The flower heads are yellow to orange coloured, and are open in the daytime but closed at night. The heads are borne singly on a hollow stem (scape) that rises 1–10 cm or more above the leaves and exudes a milky latex when broken. A rosette may produce several flowering stems at a time. The flower heads are 2–5 cm in diameter and consist entirely of ray florets. The flower heads mature into spherical seed heads called "blowballs" or "clocks" (in both British and American English) containing many single-seeded fruits called achenes. Each achene is attached to a pappus of fine hairs, which enable wind-aided dispersal over long distances.
The flower head is surrounded by bracts (sometimes mistakenly called sepals) in two series. The inner bracts are erect until the seeds mature, then flex downward to allow the seeds to disperse; the outer bracts are always reflexed downward. Some species drop the "parachute" from the achenes; the hair-like parachutes are called pappus, and they are modified sepals. Between the pappus and the achene, there is a stalk called a beak, which elongates as the fruit matures. The beak breaks off from the achene quite easily, separating the seed from the parachute.
A number of species of Taraxacum are seed dispersed ruderals that rapidly colonize disturbed soil, especially the common dandelion (T. officinale), which has been introduced over much of the temperate world. After flowering is finished, the dandelion flower head dries out for a day or two. The dried petals and stamens drop off, the bracts reflex (curve backwards), and the parachute ball opens into a full sphere.
Many similar plants in the Asteraceae family with yellow flowers are sometimes known as "false dandelions". Dandelions are very similar to catsears (Hypochaeris). Both plants carry similar flowers, which form into windborne seeds. However, dandelion flowers are borne singly on unbranched, hairless and leafless, hollow stems, while catsear flowering stems are branched, solid and carry bracts. Both plants have a basal rosette of leaves and a central taproot. However, the leaves of dandelions are smooth or glabrous, whereas those of catsears are coarsely hairy.
Other plants with superficially similar flowers include hawkweeds (Hieracium) and hawksbeards (Crepis). These are readily distinguished by branched flowering stems, which are usually hairy and bear leaves.
The genus is taxonomically complex, with some botanists dividing the group into about 34 macrospecies, and about 2000 microspecies; approximately 235 apomictic and polyploid microspecies have been recorded in Great Britain and Ireland. Some botanists take a much narrower view and only accept a total of about 60 species.
- Taraxacum albidum, a white-flowering Japanese dandelion.
- Taraxacum californicum, the endangered California dandelion
- Taraxacum japonicum, Japanese dandelion. No ring of smallish, downward-turned leaves under the flowerhead.
- Taraxacum kok-saghyz, Russian dandelion, which produces rubber
- Taraxacum laevigatum, Red-seeded dandelion; achenes reddish brown and leaves deeply cut throughout length. Inner bracts' tips are hooded.
- Taraxacum officinale (syn. T. officinale subsp. vulgare), common dandelion. Found in many forms.
- Taraxacum ceratophorum, Northern dandelion
- 'Amélioré à Coeur Plein' - Yields an abundant crop without taking up much ground, and tends to blanch itself naturally, due to its clumping growth habit.
- 'Broad Leaved' - The leaves are thick and tender and easily blanched. In rich soils they can be up to 60 cm wide. Plants do not go to seed as quickly as French types.
- 'Vert de Montmagny'- Long dark green leaves, some find them mild enough to be palatable without blanching. Vigorous and productive.
The Latin name Taraxacum originates in medieval Persian writings on pharmacy. The Persian scientist Al-Razi around 900 (A.D.) wrote "the tarashaquq is like chicory". The Persian scientist and philosopher Ibn Sīnā around 1000 (A.D.) wrote a book chapter on Taraxacum. Gerard of Cremona, in translating Arabic to Latin around 1170, spelled it tarasacon.
The English name, dandelion, is a corruption of the French dent de lion meaning "lion's tooth", referring to the coarsely toothed leaves. The plant is also known as blowball, cankerwort, doon-head-clock, witch's gowan, milk witch, lion's-tooth, yellow-gowan, Irish daisy, monks-head, priest's-crown and puff-ball; other common names include faceclock, pee-a-bed, wet-a-bed, swine's snout, white endive, and wild endive.
The name "dandelion" is a cognate of the names in many other European languages, such as the Welsh dant y llew, Italian dente di leone, Catalan dent de lleó, Spanish diente de león, Portuguese dente-de-leão, Norwegian Løvetann, Danish Løvetand and German Löwenzahn. The colloquial German word Pusteblume (blow-flower) refers to the children's game of blowing away the seeds of the ripe taraxacum flower.
In modern French, the plant is named pissenlit (or vernacular pisse au lit). Likewise, "piss-a-bed" is an English folk-name for this plant, as are piscialletto in Italian, pixallits in Catalan and meacamas in Spanish. These names refer to the strong diuretic effect of the plant's roots, either roasted or raw. In various north-eastern Italian dialects, the plant is known as pisacan ("dog pisses"), because they are found at the side of pavements.
In France, it is also known as laitue de chien (dog's lettuce), salade de taupe (mole's salad), florin d'or (golden florin); cochet (cockerel); fausse chicorée (false chicory); couronne de moine (monk's crown); baraban.
In several European languages, the plant, or at least its parachute ball stage, is named after the popular children's pastime of blowing the parachutes off the stalk: Pusteblume German for "blowing flower"), soffione (Italian for "blowing", in some northern Italian dialects), dmuchawiec (Polish, derived from the verb "blow"), одуванчик (Russian, derived from the verb "blow").
In other languages, the plant is named after the white latex found in its stem, e.g., mlecz (derived from the Polish word for "milk"), mælkebøtte (Danish for "milk pot"), kutyatej (Hungarian for "dog milk"), маслачак (Serbian, from маслац meaning "butter"). The Lithuanian name kiaulpienė can be translated as "sow milk". Similarly, in Latvian it is called pienene, derived from piens ('milk'), as in Catalan is used lletsó (derived from the word llet that means "milk").
The alternative Hungarian name gyermekláncfű ("child's chain grass") refers to the habit of children to pick dandelions, remove the flowers, and make links out of the stems by "plugging" the narrow top end of the stem into the wider bottom end.
In Bulgarian and Macedonian, its name (respectively глухарче and глуварче) is derived from the word for 'deaf' (глух, глув), because of a traditional belief that dandelion parachutes can cause deafness.
In Finnish and Estonian, it is called voikukka and võilill, respectively, meaning "butter flower", referring to its buttery colour. Similarly, in Croatian, the name of this plant (maslačak) is derived from the noun maslac, meaning butter.
In Dutch, it is called paardenbloem, meaning "horse-flower".
In Persian, it is called qasedak (قاصدک), meaning the "small postman", because of a belief that it brings good news.
In Portuguese, it is called dente-de-leão, also meaning "lion's tooth". Portuguese children also call them "o teu pai é careca" (your dad is bald) due to a game which consisted on blowing on a dandelion. If it was left with no seeds, that would mean the other kid's dad was bald.
In Greek, its seed (and most often the plant itself) is called a kleftis (κλέφτης) meaning "thief" because it is very difficult to catch once airborne.
In Cyprus, the plant is called a pappous (παππούς) meaning "grandfather" due to the white-coloured seed head resembling the white hair of an older man.
In Albanian it is called përkalidhe, prakalidhe, as well as luleshurdha (meaning "deaf plant"), radhiqe / luleradhiqe ( from a misconception due to its resemblance to chicory leaf, see radicchio), as well as lakra or lakra të egra (translated as "wild lakra"), a name which generalizes a family of similar green leaf vegetables including as well sorrel, chicory, catsear, scarole, and other local indigenous plants.
Dandelions are found on all continents and have been gathered for food since prehistory, but the varieties cultivated for consumption are mainly native to Eurasia. A perennial plant, its leaves will grow back if the taproot is left intact. To make leaves more palatable, they are often blanched to remove bitterness. Dandelion leaves and buds have been a part of traditional Sephardic, Chinese, and Korean cuisine. In Crete, Greece, the leaves of a variety called Mari (Μαρί), Mariaki (Μαριάκι) or Koproradiko (Κοπροράδικο) are eaten by locals, either raw or boiled, in salads. Taraxacum megalorhizon, a species endemic to Crete, is eaten in the same way; it is found only at high altitudes (1000 to 1600 m.) and in fallow sites, and is called pentaramia (πενταράμια) or agrioradiko (αγριοράδικο).
The flower petals, along with other ingredients, usually including citrus, are used to make dandelion wine. The ground, roasted roots can be used as a caffeine-free dandelion coffee. Dandelion was also traditionally used to make the traditional British soft drink dandelion and burdock, and is one of the ingredients of root beer. Also, dandelions were once delicacies eaten by the Victorian gentry, mostly in salads and sandwiches.
Historically, dandelion was prized for a variety of medicinal properties, and it contains a wide number of pharmacologically active compounds. Dandelion is used as a herbal remedy in Europe, North America and China. It has been used in herbal medicine to treat infections, bile and liver problems, and as a diuretic.
Food for wildlife
Taraxacum seeds are an important food source for certain birds.
Dandelions are also important plants for northern hemisphere bees, providing an important source of nectar and pollen early in the season. Dandelions are used as food plants by the larvae of some species of Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths). See List of Lepidoptera that feed on dandelions. They are also used as a source of nectar by the pearl-bordered fritillary (Boloria euphrosyne), one of the earliest emerging butterflies in the spring.
Benefits to gardeners
The dandelion plant is a beneficial weed, with a wide range of uses, and is even a good companion plant for gardening. Its taproot will bring up nutrients for shallower-rooting plants, and add minerals and nitrogen to soil. It is also known to attract pollinating insects and release ethylene gas which helps fruit to ripen.
The dandelion is the official flower of the University of Rochester and "Dandelion Yellow" is one of the school's official colors. The Dandelion Yellow is an official University of Rochester song.
Dandelion pollen may cause allergic reactions when eaten, or adverse skin reactions in sensitive individuals. Contact dermatitis after handling has also been reported, probably from the latex in the stems and leaves. Due to its high potassium level, dandelion can also increase the risk of hyperkalemia when taken with potassium-sparing diuretics. The consumption of dandelion leaves has also been implicated in occurrences of fasciolosis.
As a noxious weed
The species Taraxacum officinale is listed as a noxious weed in some jurisdictions, and is considered to be a nuisance in residential and recreational lawns in North America. It is also an important weed in agriculture and causes significant economic damage because of its infestation in many crops worldwide.
As source of natural rubber
Dandelion milk had been known to contain latex for a long time. The latex exhibited the same quality as the natural rubber from rubber trees. Yet in the wild types of dandelion, the latex content is low and varies greatly. By inhibiting one key enzyme and using modern cultivation methods and optimization techniques, scientists in the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology (IME) in Germany developed a cultivar that is suitable for commercial production of natural rubber. In collaboration with Continental Tires, IME is building a pilot facility. The first prototype test tires made with blends from dandelion-rubber are scheduled to be tested on public roads over the next few years.
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