Species profile: Common Dandelion

Today’s species is no stranger to cracks in the asphalt and is public enemy #1 to all gardeners and landscapers with a desire for uniformity in their lawns.  I spent one lunch break collecting a bagful and discovered that I’m not the only one after this flower.

Everyone knows that dandelions grant wishes.  If you pluck a post-bloom dandelion flower and release all the fluff in one blow, you can make a wish.  Unfortunately, you’re not doing yourself any favors if your wish is to reduce alien dandelions, as these tufts are actually seeds which are very successful at colonizing new and/or disturbed habitats.  They are originally from Europe, but are now very common in North America (found in all 50 states and most Canadian provinces) and East Asia, and are famous in commercials for weed killer.

Distribution map of the common dandelion in the United States and Canada. Dots in the state or province indicate presence. Image credit: www.eFloras.org

Biology and ecological impact of Taraxacum officinale (F.H. Wigg)

The common dandelion is in the sunflower family and form composite inflorescences characteristic of member of Asteraceae.  What we would typically consider one “flower” is actually known as a capitulum and is comprised of multiple flowers held together by a receptacle.  The common dandelion reproduces asexually to produce seeds identical to the parent in a process called apomixes.  There are two stages in dandelion seed production—pre-bloom and post-bloom.  A dandelion capitulum in pre-bloom is a cluster of yellow flowers which will self-fertilize and mature.  A mature capitulum in post-bloom has exposed seeds that are topped by bristles making it look like a ball of puff.  Due to their highly mobile, wind and wish dispersed seeds, invasions can spread rapidly.  In addition, common dandelion seeds can remain viable in the seed bank and dangerously wait for favorable conditions in which to germinate.

This bumble bee didn’t know it, but he was about to share his dandelion with me. Photo credit: S. Sim

A recent study in Asia has shown that pollen from the alien T. officinale can cause reproductive interference with its native relative, T. japonicum, which results in lower seed production in native dandelions.  Lower seed production of natives results in fewer individuals with which to compete for space and nutrients and an increased likelihood of the alien species displacing the native.

Is it really invasive?

Though the common dandelion is not native to the North America or East Asia and can displace native relatives, there is discussion about its role in wildlife diets.  Dandelions readily colonize disturbed and over-grazed habitats, can serve as an important source of food for cattle, wild ungulates, and bears and thus their colonization of some areas such as cattle pastures is encouraged.  However, it has also been shown that they can pose a threat to alpine zones and upper forests through competition with conifer seedlings.  So the question is if dandelion presence and benefit to local fauna is worth the potential loss of native flora.

And of course, they are edible to people as well.  One of our editors is on record referring to dandelions as a “gateway invasive” for aspiring invasivores.  In northern Indiana, we are currently in the part of the season where a majority of the common dandelions are in post-bloom, but they’ll all swing back to pre-bloom soon when I’ll collect more so we can try our luck at making dandelion wine.

 

Sheina

A self-proclaimed modern day nomad, I was born in the Philippines, grew up in southern California—lived all over really—and now I do research as a graduate student in Indiana and the Pacific Northwest. Professionally speaking, my current area of focus is speciation and ecological genetics and genomics, and a common theme in my various projects over the years is evolution in agricultural systems. As a recipient of a GLOBES—an interdisciplinary program funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) through the Integrative Graduate Education, Research, and Traineeship grant (IGERT) —fellowship, I have received training which has better enabled me to view and ponder topics without my science hat on. I take great joy in eating, cooking, and experiencing nature through various activities. I love to travel and anticipate many local and international invasivore field trips! Though my research interests do not directly involve the study of invasive species, I have had my fair share of negative encounters with environmentally noxious organisms in the midst of doing field research. I carry around a machete with which to combat my gnarly “Himalayan” foes, and my machete and I have raised more than a few eyebrows. Apart from my personal vendetta against these deliciously juicy pests, I feel that there are great advantages to linking our awareness of the natural world to our culture, and Invasivore is an avenue to do just that. I feel that an increase in general knowledge of invasive species will be of great benefit to the field of invasive species and conservation biology. Knowledge and awareness will lead to action, and action will lead to results!

19 thoughts on “Species profile: Common Dandelion

  • June 10, 2011 at 4:42 pm
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    good stuff!

    any recommended recipes, wine or otherwise?

    Reply
  • June 10, 2011 at 5:15 pm
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    I have a dandelion wine recipe I want to try, but I didn’t collect enough the first time around so I’m waiting until the dandelions are in pre-bloom again to collect some more.

    Reply
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  • February 17, 2015 at 12:41 am
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    If more people realized the amazing value of these plants they would be scarce rather than “invasive”. The roasted roots make a very healthful and delicious substitute for coffee; the greens are incredibly nutritious and good for digestion; and the flower heads, when covered in batter, make a formidable (though dubiously healthy) fritter. These plants are 100% edible and very good for you. Don’t dis’ the dandelion!

    If you have too many, please dry the roots and send them to me!

    Reply
  • April 19, 2015 at 8:07 pm
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    I think you have them reversed…
    Taraxacum officinale (F.H. Wigg) is native.
    Taraxacum japonicum is alien to North America.

    Reply
    • April 24, 2015 at 10:49 am
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      Taraxacum officinale is native to Eurasia but has long been considered naturalized in North America. Nonetheless, it can be considered an introduced species, and is certainly an invader from the perspective of lawn owners and gardeners. It is because of this naturalized status and resulting familiarity that North Americans have with this plant that we have suggested dandelions make a good “gateway invader” for aspiring invasivores!

      In regards to T. japonicum, the study we quoted in the article occurred in Asia where it is a native species, and we’ve edited our text to make that more clear. Although invasivore.org tends to focus on invasions in North America because that is home to all of our writers, invasions are an important aspect of global change on all continents, and we try to include information from around the world where possible.

      Reply
      • April 24, 2015 at 8:34 pm
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        Thanks. The article appears to be focused on US and Canada (ie the map). The clarification on the quoted article helps.

        Reply
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  • November 29, 2015 at 5:22 am
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    Great article. I`m glad so many people are interested in the power of herbs. Dandelion syrup is my favourite 🙂 I always use it when I get cold… Great and delicious treatment.

    Reply
  • April 30, 2017 at 9:16 am
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    I can speak personally to the fact that the native areas I am trying to tend/protect/improve are invaded by these plants. I deeply lament the popularization of not controlling this species…it is a shallow view of the world that dismisses the value of natives and the food value and diversity they represent for this part of the world for both wildlife and humans.

    Reply

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