Blown away by Dandelions

The answer is blowin' in the wind...Dandelions are very efficient at spreading their fruits using tiny parachutes. Photo by Paul Hudson, CC.

The answer is blowin’ in the wind…Dandelions are very efficient at spreading their fruits using tiny parachutes. Photo by Paul Hudson, CC.

The tulip festival is in town this week, and the streets of Ottawa are lined with the slender stems of these bobbing flowers. Tulips are pretty cool, especially in the huge numbers seen at the festival. However, for me the coolest part of the tulip festival is to see how many tourists come from all over the globe…just to take photos of tulips. I guess the botany nerd in me should be happy that people are so interested in flowers!

Okay, upon reading the Tulip festival website, there are some pretty good reasons for tourists to take photos of these flowers:

1) It is the largest tulip festival in the world

2) The tulip is Ottawa’s official flower (who knew?)

3) The tulips are a yearly gift from the Netherlands. They are thank-you to Canada for helping liberate the Dutch during WII and for harboring the Dutch Royal Family while their home country was occupied by the Germans

4) While the Royal Family was here, Princess Margriet was born at the Ottawa Civic Hospital, making her the only royal ever born in North America. Canada temporarily made the hospital part of the Netherlands, so the Princess could have full Dutch citizenship. Yessir, we take our constitutional monarchy status very seriously here!

If the title of Ottawa’s official flower was based on abundance, I think the dandelion would win. But then, it would also be the official flower of most other Canadian cities, so I think Ottawa should stick to the tulip.

The dandelion has a bad reputation for defiling perfectly manicured lawns with its bright yellow cheeriness. Those fluffy seeds are also pretty good at spreading the plant’s progeny far and wide.

In North America, the dandelion is an alien invader. Run for the hills!

Okay, it came from Europe, not outer space. Small detail.

In fact, many of our common ‘weeds’ were brought over by early European immigrants for sentimental reasons. Women brought seeds from their gardens back home to plant in the New World. This small familiar flower in a new country was no doubt comforting, but it wreaked havoc on the Canadian ecosystem.

Here are some fun dandelion facts:

A dandelion is actually made of many tiny flowers! Photo by Sam Droege, Dandelion, side_2013. CC.

A dandelion is actually made of many tiny flowers! Photo by Sam Droege, Dandelion, side_2013. CC.

1. A dandelion is not just one flower, but a monsterflower! The flowering head is made up of hundreds of tiny flowers. As anyone who has made a wish by blowing on a dandelion can attest, each of the mini-flowers produces a tiny fruit with its own parachute. Botanists call dandelions compound flowers, but I like the term monsterflower much better. How did this plant spread its seeds before there were humans to blow on them? Why, by using the wind, of course!

2. Much to the despair of anyone who as pulled dandelions out of their lawn, dandelions can completely regrow from tiny pieces of their very long taproot. Imagine if humans could do this!

3. Ever wondered why you don’t see dandelions in the woods? It’s because they need lots of sunlight to grow, and have trouble breaking into natural habitats. Artificial habitats created by humans like lawns and gardens are their favorite spots! We’re encouraging them, really.

4. Why should you care about dandelions? Well, because bees think they are awesome. The flowers bloom in early spring when bees are just waking up and food is scarce. They also bloom in late fall, when bees are stocking up on food for the winter. Why should you care about well fed bees? Well, because they pollinate many of our crops. For free. No bees means no apples, berries, almonds or cucumbers.

Now go impress your friends with your dandelion knowledge. And if you’re in Ottawa, go check out the tulip festival!

About Amelia

I am a recent biology graduate and current journalism student exploring career opportunities in science communications.

One response to “Blown away by Dandelions

  1. Pingback: Lilac locomotion: Humanity’s bizarre love affiar with lilacs | lab bench to park bench

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May 2014


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