A Moment of Science

A Dandelion Is Born

While annoying to most adults, dandelions are loved by children. But what makes these "flowers" so widespread?

Close up of brighg, yellow dandelion.

Photo: code poet (Flickr)

These tenacious dandelions can be found on six continents.

They’re a home owner’s nemesis and a young kid’s delight. Whether they’re yellow flowers dotting an otherwise perfect lawn or white puffs ready to be blown away by a sudden gust, dandelions are either hated or loved by just about everybody.

One Dandelion=Many Flowers

What looks like a single yellow flower growing in your lawn is actually many flowers grouped together. Each section of the flower that looks like a petal is actually an individual flower in its own right.

A dandelion is an aggregate of many small flowers and each individual flower has its own stamens and pistil, and therefore can reproduce without fertilization.

After a dandelion has bloomed, each of the individual flowers within a single dandelion forms a seed. The seed is attached to fluffy white threads, which allow the seed to fly to a place where, if it meets favorable conditions, it can germinate to create another dandelion.

A Tenacious Spirit

Even if you hate this common weed, you’ve got to respect its tenacious spirit. Dandelions are native to six continents, and are found throughout the world except in the tropics.

Their impressive roots, which can be up to a foot long, allow them to thrive in inhospitable environments, like big cities, where most flowers and weeds can’t even survive.

Cut off a dandelion at the surface and the root will grow another plant. But dandelions aren’t just annoying weeds; they’ve been used throughout history in a variety of ways.

Dandelion Salads?

Dandelion leaves have been eaten as salad greens. They’ve also been dried to make dandelion tea; dandelion flowers have been used to make wine and schnapps. In addition, the milky juice of one kind of dandelion has been used to make a natural rubber.

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