While conducting wildflower hikes and school field trips at Crossroads, participating in the Festival of Nature, and searching for pollinator-friendly flowers for our Bird and Butterfly Garden, I have shared an amazing variety of spring ephemerals with learners of all ages. These lovely wildflowers were quite special. But curiously, many folks seemed more captivated by the stems of dandelions than by the delicate blossoms of spring.
The flower stalks of dandelions are quite remarkable. They are tapered, wider at the bottom than at the top and amazingly strong, considering that they are hollow. But they aren’t stiff. Unlike stems, they can bend without breaking during storms or when under the blades of lawn mowers.
The flower stalks of dandelions are sometimes tall and sometimes short. Actually, they grow just as high as they have to in order to catch the wind. You see, when the flower head has turned into seeds, the function of the stalk is to hold the fluffy blowball high enough so that a breeze will catch the little parachutes and carry the seeds away.
In a mowed lawn, a flower stalk does not have to be very long for the seeds to catch the wind. But in a field full of tall weeds or in a wooded area, the dandelion flower stalks grow very tall…. tall enough for the wind ( and sometimes even rising air currents) to pull the seeds from their parent plant and carry them far, far away.
If a dandelion flower stalk or leaf gets injured, white juice leaks out and forms a scab to heal the plant. The white liquid is not buttermilk (as I, as a child was told,) but latex–a natural rubber.
Some people get a mild skin rash from the latex found in dandelions so you should probably avoid getting the milky juice on your hands. And if, like generations of children, you make the flower stalks curl by splitting them lengthwise and pulling them through your mouth, you will find that latex tastes quite bitter In Russia, a species of dandelion contains so much latex that during World War II, they used the plants to make tires for cars and trucks. Our American scientists have not yet found a commercial use for dandelion latex, which is really too bad. Dandelions would certainly be a renewable resource.
But you know what I find really curious? Not the flower stalks of dandelions, but rather, people’s attitudes toward dandelion blossoms. I know folks who go to great lengths to attract pollinators to their gardens, and yet they poison the yellow flowers that provide early spring and late fall survival food to our bees.
Construction on our parking lot is underway. While visitors will have access to some of the parking lot most of the time, there will be times when we will ask people to park in our Maintenance Building parking lot or at the Astronomy Campus.
A small gravel lot is available at the intersection on Canal Road and Buffalo Ridge Trail for visitors to the Ida Bay Preserve. A mowed grass area located of 20th Place just of Utah Street will accommodate visitors to The Cove.