The humble dandelion. Those little yellow plants that grow in all the cracks in the sidewalk. Also, in any other abandoned space they manage to worm their roots into. There’s nothing more to them than that, right?
If that thought has crossed your mind before, you’re not alone. Many have come to view this little plant as nothing more than a pest. An invasive species that ruins their lawns and flower beds.
What makes it more surprising, is that it was only a few centuries. Even decades for some when people widely used and cultivated the dandelion in the world. And when people learn this information, there’s often a moment of thought that comes with it.
A thought that usually goes somewhere along the lines of: ‘If I didn’t know that dandelions used to be deliberately grown by people, what else do I not know?’
Well, that’s what this guide is here for!
We’ll give you a rundown of the dandelion flower, what it is and some of its features. We’ll also tell you the attached importance to it (and there’s been a lot). Some of the things people still used it for today, as well. It might surprise you about how much there is to find out about this little flower!
Dandelion Flower – What Is It?
Let’s get some basics out of the way first. The dandelion is a small flowering plant found all over the world, especially in the Northern Hemisphere.
People best known them for their bright yellow flower heads when they are in bloom. As well as their bright white heads of seeds that grow afterward. Such have occupied the attention and entertainment of more than a few adults and children throughout the ages.
They are a short-growing flowering plant, very rarely growing taller than 26 to 28 inches tall at their highest. As we already stated in the introduction, people often considered it a pest and weed in places where they readily grow.
However, in countries and locations where they don’t usually grow, or places with low-quality soil, many seed and floral collectors prized them.
It’ll surprise you how regularly people smuggled seeds of dandelions into others countries, they are that popular!
And even if people dislike this ‘weed’ plant, that doesn’t mean it plays no role in the natural world. They are a valuable source of food for many smaller plant-eaters, such as caterpillars and smaller grazing mammals. Also, they are fast-growing enough to help sustain and feed these animals in a short period.
This makes them great for feeding many domesticated and farmyard animals.
Etymological Meaning Of The Dandelion Flower
The dandelion has had many names throughout history, many of them coming from English. Blowball, doon-head-clock, and cankerwort are all different names for the same few plant species that were native to the islands. However, dandelion would be the time that survived the Middle Ages.
The term is actually an old word that is based on medieval French and Latin. The original term came from Latin in the Middle Ages, specifically the term ‘den leonis’. The approximate translation for this into English means lion’s tooth. The jagged patterns that ran along the side of the leaf resembled the teeth and jaws of a lion.
From this old Latin term came the French word ‘dent-e-lion’, being a pretty literal translation phonetically. This term would later make its way across the English Channel, with the Norman invasion of Britain in the 11th century, bringing with it the French Language.
Norman-French and Old English would eventually create what is now Middle English, where we start to see the modern word ‘dandelion’.
This would remain virtually the same for the next 700 to 800 years. Remaining unchanged as the rest of the English language evolved into modern English.
The Latin name for the wider family of dandelion species, ‘Taraxacum’, came in the 9th century in West Asia, in the Persian region of what is now Iran.
Symbolism Of The Dandelion Flower
Depending on where it has grown, the dandelion has had many meanings attached to it. Especially, over the thousands of years that people have known of the little flower.
For the Ancient Greeks, the flower came to symbolize power, perseverance, and strength. The story of Theseus and the Minotaur is iconic amongst Greek legends. But an often forgotten part of the tale is in the 30 days leading up to the task. Theseus consumed as many dandelions as possible to build up his strength and stamina.
This might be one of the reasons that dandelions are a part of traditional Greek cuisine.
Of course, the puffy sphere of dandelion seeds, also known as a clock in the United States, are as iconic as the yellow flower itself. Blowing the seeds into the wind has been a favorite floral pastime for hundreds of years, if not longer.
As part of European traditional folklore, it’s often customary to think and make a wish before blowing on the flowers. If they could blow all the seeds off the flower in one lungful of air, they say that wish to come true!
Many children across the ages have tuckered themselves out trying to make their wishes come true, as you might imagine.
In general, the blowing of a clock of dandelion seeds was typically a sign of good fortune to come for those that blew them. It is a tradition that has lasted all the way through to the modern-day in some places.
Dandelion Flower Color Meanings
Although the most common color of dandelions is yellow, several other species bloom in other colors, such as white and pink. Each has had its fair share of symbolic meaning attached to them over the years.
- Yellow: The most common type of dandelion flower you’ll find is yellow. The yellow flower is often tied to the imagery of spring and all the life that comes with it. They are a sign that life and health have returned to an area after a long winter. And that bountiful times are ahead, full of growth, good health, and good fortune.
- White: Less common than the yellow flower, the white dandelion flower often mean similar things to the yellow counterpart. Whilst they are often symbols of friendship, relationships, and lasting peace, the white flower also comes to mean innocence. The color is often tied to those ideas when it appears in other flowers, as well as emotional healing. If someone was grieving the loss of a loved one, the white dandelion would be a sign and hope that healing would soon begin.
- Pink: Another much rarer color than the common yellow dandelion is the pink flower. This plant very much tied up with the themes of beauty and relationships, similarly to other dandelion flower colors. The reddish tints also tie them to blossoming romantic relationships too. Being gentle and joyful with those loved ones around you.
Meaningful Botanical Characteristics Of The Dandelion Flower
Like these other flowers, they grow best in temperate climates across the globe, preferring moist soil. But, requiring little else to grow well.
The flower of the dandelion is actually made of many smaller florets, called the calyculi on this plant, containing anywhere from 12 segments up to 18, where much of the nectar and pollen is found.
Because of their wide range, they are a vital part of many pollinators where they live. Despite their relatively poor nectar quality, both in amount and nutrition, they grow in such large quantities, that they will still make up a vital part of a pollinator’s nectar foraging behaviors, whilst also maintaining a biological a nutritional diversity to places where nectar is particularly low.
Their unique seeds are the result of a bloom of pappus. It is a collection of calyxes. Such modified from the main body of the plant to create a unique umbrella shape. The bloom forms into a cone shape that cover the bract in a white, fluffy sphere.
The shape of the seed actually allows for a vortex ring of air current to form under it once blown in the wind, allowing it to float great distances from the parent plant, sometimes up to 5 miles away!
Although they are an invasive species to many ecosystems they have appeared in over the last few decades, they do still have uses for botanists and gardeners.
Being a deep-root plant, the dandelion often grow as a companion plant for plants with a shorter or less wide root system of their own. The dandelion’s roots bring more nutrients from deeper in the soil closer to the surface, allowing the other plant to also benefit from this system.
Dandelion Flower Cultural Significance
Because of their ability to grow pretty much anywhere, the dandelion and its relatives have been in countries and nations across the world and time, with many cultures taking not of them throughout history.
Found across the Mediterranean and North Africa, Ancient Egyptians were well aware of the dandelion plant at least as far back as the New Kingdom, which would place the oldest documented awareness of them between 1500 and 1100 BC!
The Ancient Greeks and Romans were also aware of the plant, as well as its edible qualities. Roman armies would often eat this plant on their conquest of Gaul and the British Isles, as did the native Gauls and Celts.
Because dandelions have also grown in Asia for millions of years, many cultures also found uses for this versatile little flower. Ancient China, for example, used the flower for many medicinal purposes, as a detoxifier, thanks to antioxidants that it carries, and as a treatment for appendicitis.
They were such a useful plant for settlers and small communities. Especially, when colonizers first landed in North America and the rest of the New World. They considered the plants essential to the survival of many early colonies.
Dandelion Flower Facts
- As a species, the dandelion evolved over 30 million years ago. This makes them older than many families of animals that are alive today!
- Dandelions actually secret a small amount of latex when the plant tissues are broken or otherwise damaged.
- During and before the 19th century, the dandelion was often encouraged to grow in gardens for their long flowering season, and their beauty, as well as their many medicinal and culinary uses. They are one of the few plants considered ‘weeds’ that were spread so widely because of their deliberate cultivation by us.
- Most sections of the dandelion plant can be used by humans in some way, as a dye, for traditional medicinal purposes, or as food.
- With anywhere from 54 seeds to over 170 on some, and the plant itself able to produce over 5000 seeds in just a single year, dandelions are quite prolific when it comes to spreading across a habitat. A dense group of dandelion plants could fill a hectare with land with well over 97,000,000 seeds in just a single year!
- Their seeds can be germinated long after they have been released from the parent plant. One example from a seed bank was able to germinate over 9 years after it was first stored!
- The seeds produce plants that are genetically identical to the parent plant.
Dandelion Flower Uses
As we’ve already stated, the dandelion plant is edible for people. They are an amazing source of many nutrients that the body requires, such as iron, calcium, and vitamin A. They’re actually a traditional remedy if you are suffering from mild digestion issues too.
In fact, when it comes to edible plants, humans can almost any part of the plant! They can cut, cleaned, and boiled or sautéed dandelion leaves like spinach leaves, with very similar results. Also, they can chop up, slice, and throw the roots into salads, fry until crispy.
Alternatively, people can dry it up, ground up into a fine powder, and make into a great caffeine-free substitute for coffee!
Humans can eat the flower blooms themselves freshly picked! Or, if the cook prepares to put a little more effort in, they can fry it, mix in pancake batter, or turn into wine even!
Dandelions have been a part of people’s diets across Europe and Asia for thousands of years, so there have been countless recipes throughout the ages depending on the culture, from Spanish to Jewish, to Italian, to Greek, to China and Korea too, and countless others along with them.
Try and experiment for yourself to see which recipes work for you.
Special Occasions For The Dandelion Flower
Although dandelions are a beautiful and useful flower in many ways, their status and reputation as an invasive weed plant mean that there are few formal events where a dandelion would be openly welcomed.
However, that doesn’t mean that there are no situations where sending someone dandelions is appropriate. They certainly provide a rustic charm to them if a bouquet is large and vibrant enough. Plus, sending flowers, including an arrangement of dandelions, is always a touching way to remind someone that you are thinking of them, no matter what form they take.
Sending a bouquet of flowers to someone if they are unwell can be a way of showing that you hope that good health will return to them soon. Plus, a combination of dandelion flower and seed heads is sure to give someone a few moments of brevity in a difficult time.
If a person has lost someone close to them, a well-made bouquet of dandelion flowers can also mean that you are hoping and wishing well for their mental and spiritual wellbeing.
It is one of the reasons modern witchcraft and pagan religions across the world use dandelions in their iconography. If you have received dandelion flower arrangements in a troubling time, there could be a friendly neighborhood witch wishing you well!
The Symbolism Of A Dandelion Flower Tattoo
The dandelion tattoo on a person can mean so much, although it is somewhat rare to find many people who have a tattoo of this specific flower. However, the seed clocks are a popular symbol of those with a free spirit.
Dandelion seeds are capable of traveling massive distances from their parent plant, and so represent the ability to travel and see the wider world, away from their upbringing.
Many people who feel that they need to spend some time away from where they grew up might feel compelled to have a tattoo of the dandelion clock on them.
Given that the dandelion plant is probably one of the hardiest plants out there, they are also a great symbol of perseverance and a strong will.
This makes them very popular with Christians, who see both the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as the ultimate symbol of faith and perseverance, represented in the hardy plant.
Many pastors often compare spreading the love of Jesus Christ to the spreading of dandelion seeds, further cementing this connection in the hearts and minds of many.
So, as this guide has hopefully shown you, the humble dandelion is not just a plant that you should come to hate and dispose of the moment you see it. This little ‘weed’ has been vital to the survival of many people’s lives throughout history, and a center point of culture for just as many others.
We hope you take this knowledge with you and share the love of the dandelion with others.
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