Dandelions are one of the most recognizable weeds in North America and all over the world. Despite their abundance, however, there are many people who don’t know what they look like, especially because they change their appearance multiple times throughout their life cycle.
Many homeowners are worried about dandelions, especially if they are looking to get rid of the weeds in their lawn. While dandelions may be considered a weed by some, they also have some benefits that make them worth keeping around.
In this blog post, we will take a close look at dandelions and provide information on how to identify them. We will also discuss some of the benefits of dandelions and offer tips for controlling them. So, what do dandelions look like? Let’s find out!
What Are Dandelions?
The scientific name for Dandelion weed is Taraxacum officinale, which is a flowering plant that belongs to the Asteraceae family that includes sunflowers and daisies.
Dandelion plants are native to Europe and North America, but they may be found virtually everywhere in temperate areas. The name comes from the French term dent de lion, which means “tooth of the lion” – referring to their jagged and rough leaves. They are sometimes known as blowball, cankerwort, doon-head-clock, and piss-a-bed.
Every part of a dandelion is edible, and a surprising source of nutrients, including vitamins A, C, and K, as well as minerals like calcium and potassium. They’re also popular delicacies in many regions of the world where they’re uncommon, such as the tropics. They can be used to make dandelion wine, medicinal teas and tinctures, eaten in a salad, and the roots can be used as a caffeine-free coffee substitute.
Sometimes they’re called “piss-a-bed”, which comes from the fact that dandelions have diuretic qualities and have been used as such in China for thousands of years, as well as by Native Americans as a food and a medicine.
Where Do Dandelions Grow?
Dandelions are a noxious weed in several American states, and they’re one of the most common home and recreational lawn weeds throughout the country.
Dandelions are a reliable indicator of soil calcium and potassium levels, since they prefer soils with low calcium levels and high potassium concentrations.
Both species, as well as the other dandelion relatives, have red/brown flower clusters on tall stems. They are frequently observed colonizing disturbed places, such as from wind-blown seeds or seed bank germination. The seeds may stay viable in a seed bank for up to nine years. The seeds are dispersed via the wind and can travel up to several hundred meters, and even a kilometer in perfect conditions.
Dandelions produce anywhere from 54 to 172 seedlings per head, with each plant yielding more than 5,000 seeds annually and a dense dandelion infestation potentially producing upwards of 40 million seeds per acre every year.
How to Identify Dandelions
Dandelions are one of the easiest weeds to identify. They have their yellow sunflower-type stage, and their white puff-ball stage. Here are some other visual characteristics, so you know exactly how they will appear in your yard.
Dandelions can reach a height anywhere from 2 to 16 inches, but are most often 5 to 10 inches tall. They also grow at the ground level, making them easy to spot while strolling in the grass or just gazing out into your backyard. The stems are thin and green in color, although they occasionally become purple tinted.
The flower heads are positioned on top of the stems, with each one covering a single stalk. The flower of a dandelion undergoes two distinct phases, and they appear to be very different.
Dandelions have two main stages that they go through in their lifespan.
The yellow flower stage is the initial one – this is where the “lion’s tooth” name originates. The flowers at this age resemble tiny sunflowers, with a small center and radiating petals all around it. Because all of the petals develop on the same plane, they tend to form a circle rather than a sphere.
The second stage is when the flower’s petals close up and develop into small tufts of silvery, wispy seeds that fly away with the slightest wind. When all of the flower heads have transformed into this second phase, a field of dandelions resembles a low-lying cloud.
Other Unique Traits
In between these two primary stages, a dandelion is closed up, so you only see its green stem and stalk. The flower and petals are enclosed by what are called bracts, which are just a type of leaf that enclose the flower when it is not in bloom. This in-between stage is actually how a dandelion spends most of its life, so while it is much more visible and identifiable in its flowering stages, you will more often see dandelions enclosed like this.
Plants That Look Like Dandelions
There are many other plants and flowers in the Asteraceae family that resemble dandelions, and these are called false dandelions. Cat’s ears (Hypochaeris) and dandelion flowers are strikingly similar, and these flowers have similar blooms that form into airborne seeds.
Both plants also have a basal leaf rosette and a taproot in the middle of the plant. However, dandelion seed blooms are borne on single-stemmed, hairless, and leafless hollow stems, whereas cat’s ear blooms have bracts and are branched and solid. Dandelions also have smooth or glabrous leaves, whereas cat’s ears have roughly hairy leaves.
Dandelions also appears similar to the Coltsfoot plant (Tussilago farfara), but can be visually separated from them by their basal rosette of leaves, their lack of disc florets, and the absence of scales on the flowering stem.
Other plants that have similar flowers to dandelions include Hawkweeds (Hieracium) and Hawksbeards (Crepis). However, these flowers have branched flowering stems, which are generally hairy and bear leaves, making them easy to distinguish from dandelions.
How to Get Rid of Dandelions
If you have a lot of dandelions that need to be killed, there are a few options for you to consider! To begin with, try digging up the dandelions’ root system. However, be careful not to miss any parts of the grass or the weed itself, which might be difficult. Springtime is the best time to pull the weeds up, as to get them before the flower.
Another option is to use your kitchen stovetop kettle. Boil some water, and then pour it over the dandelion patch until all plant parts have been submerged for a minimum of two minutes.
Using a glyphosate-based herbicide is another approach, as this type of systemic herbicide will spread throughout the dandelion after being applied. For optimal results, the weed killer should be applied when the flower head has switched to its white, wispy stage (after it turns yellow) but before it opens. Simply lop off these yellow flower tops and then apply the pesticide.
One thing to bear in mind is that any method of dandelion control must be repeated annually, as they are quick to recolonize and propagate throughout your neighborhood.
So, there you have it, everything you ever wanted to know about dandelions (and then some).
Dandelions are a unique and interesting plant that can be found growing in many different places. They have some unique visual characteristics and growth stages that can help you identify them. Also, there are several ways to get rid of dandelions, but it is important to consider the consequences of doing so before taking any action.
Now that you can identify a dandelion when you see one and know a little bit about what they do, you might want to keep your eyes peeled for those telltale yellow flowers and remember – they may be pesky weeds to some, but to others they are symbols of springtime hope and new beginnings. For now, we hope you enjoyed learning about these fascinating flowers! Thanks for reading!