I’ve always loved dandelions. As a child, I thought they were named for dandy-looking lions — with those round yellow heads and shaggy ruffs. Though, in fact, the name apparently derives from the French dent-de-lion or lion’s tooth, referring to their jagged leaves. That doesn’t take away from their whimsical, almost magical appeal. They can be both food (my father used to pick them for salads) and drink (dandelion wine and as an ingredient in root beer), and they’ve been used for medicinal purposes by the Chinese for thousands of years. Along with forsythia, witchhazel, and daffodils they play in nature’s proudly loud brass section, blaring the news of spring.
They apparently arrived in this country on the Mayflower to be planted as herbs, but the rise of the great American lawn turned them into despised refugees: uprooted, poisoned, banned from the very land they helped colonize. They were labeled weeds, though in fact they’re classified as flowering plants, members of the very large Asteraceae family that includes daisies and sunflowers. With the growing awareness of the dangers of pesticides and over-fertilization, their reputation is bound to be restored. Soon, one hopes, their bright, happy faces will once again be dotting suburban summer neighborhoods from to sea to sea.
A Dandelion for My Mother
by Jean Nordhaus
How I loved those spiky suns,
rooted stubborn as childhood
in the grass, tough as the farmer’s
big-headed children—the mats
of yellow hair, the bowl-cut fringe.
How sturdy they were and how
slowly they turned themselves
into galaxies, domes of ghost stars
barely visible by day, pale
cerebrums clinging to life
on tough green stems. Like you.
Like you, in the end. If you were here,
I’d pluck this trembling globe to show
how beautiful a thing can be
a breath will tear away.