By: Michele Pierini
Due to both sheltering in place and the poor air quality coming from wildfires, I chose to investigate what plants could be found in my own backyard. At first I was disappointed to find nothing but grass and a very familiar yellow flower. After spending some time to educate myself, I am now happy to say that I saw a dandelion.
Depending on the type of dandelion, they can be either native or non-native to California. According to Calflora, Agoseris apargioides is the scientific name for a perennial herb that blooms from May to August which might explain why mine looks a bit droopy in September. They are generally found in this area closer to the coast which informs its common name of Coast Dandelion and Seaside Dandelion.
Another name for it is Wooly Goat Chicory which caught my interest since I love chicory coffee. Dandelions are edible plants that are related to chicory and can be eaten raw or cooked in various dishes such as salads and soups. I was surprised to see some recipes that use the flowers to make wine and jam. The Native American Ethnobotany database lists many different ways that dandelions have been used for food and medicinal purposes such as poultices for topical treatments as well as being ingested for internal pains.
While people have found plenty of ways to use these plants, their major consumer is the wildlife and natural surroundings in which they are found. Dandelions produce large amounts of nectar which can be a food source for insects like honey bees and butterflies. Their stems, seeds, and leaves can also be eaten by small creatures such as chipmunks. Hummingbirds will sometimes use dandelion seed fluff to line their nests. They are said to be able to pull up nutrients using their long roots and disperse them throughout the soil which benefits other plants nearby.
I’m glad to have had this opportunity in order to change my perspective on a plant that still has a reputation of being a pesky weed, when instead it should be known for being an important part of our local ecosystem.