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Dandelion Literature Table of Contents:

  1. The Proud Little Apple Blossom, adapted from a story by Hans Christian Andersen

  2. John Burroughs on Dandelions (an excerpt)

  3. An account of dandelion coffee from Susanna Moodie... (excerpt)

  4. Little Earth Stars

  5. Varieties of Dandelions by Neltje Blanchan

The Proud Little Apple Blossom, adapted from a story by Hans Christian Andersen

It was the month of May, but the wind still blew cool, for the sun was not yet ready to shed his warmest rays on the waiting earth.

Yet some of the birds had come, and more were on their way, and many beautiful blossoms were already showing their pink and white blooms, so that from bush and tree, field and flower, came the glad cry, "Spring is here! Spring is here." Now, it happened that a young princess rode by a beautiful orchard in full bloom, and she stopped to pick a branch of apple blossoms to take to her palace. All who saw the apple blossom praised its dandelionbeauty and fragrance until the blossom became proud, and thought that beauty was the only valuable thing in the world. But as the apple blossom looked out upon the field she thought: "Not all of the plants are rich and beautiful, as I am, some seem poor and plain." And she noticed a little, common, yellow flower, which seemed to lift up its sunny head and grow everywhere.

The apple blossom said to the plain little flower, "What is your name?"

"I am called the dandelion," replied the little flower.

"Poor little plant," said the apple blossom. "It is not your fault; but how sad you must feel to be so plain and to bear such an ugly name."

Before the little plant could reply a lovely little sunbeam came dancing along and said: "I see no ugly flowers. They are all beautiful alike to me." And he kissed the apple blossom; but he stooped low and lingered long to kiss the little yellow dandelion in the field.

And then some little children came tripping across the field. The youngest laughed when they saw the dandelions and kissed them with delight. The older children made wreaths and dainty chains of them. They picked carefully those that had gone to seed, and tried to blow the feathery down off with one breath, making joyous wishes.

"Do you see," said the sunbeam, "the beauty of the dandelion?"

"Only to children are they beautiful," said the proud apple blossom.

By and by an old woman came into the field. She gathered the roots of the dandelions, out of which she made tea for the sick, and she sold others for money to buy milk for the children.

"But beauty is better than all this," still said the proud little apple blossom. Just then the princess came along. In her hand she carried something that seemed like a beautiful flower. She covered it carefully from the wind. What do you think it was? It was the feathery crown of the dandelion. "See!" she said, "how beautiful it is! I will paint it in a picture with the apple blossoms."

Then the sunbeam kissed the apple blossom, and as he stooped low to kiss the dandelion the apple blossom blushed with shame.

Source: "A Child's Story Garden," Compiled by Elizabeth Heber

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John Burroughs on Dandelions (an excerpt)

Among trees Lowell has celebrated the oak, the pine, the birch; and among flowers; the violet and the dandelion. The last, I think, is the most pleasing of these poems:--

"Dear common flower, that grow'st beside the way,
Fringing the dusty road with harmless gold,
First pledge of blithesome May."

The dandelion is indeed, in our latitude, the pledge of May. It comes when the grass is short, and the fresh turf sets off its "ring of gold" with admirable effect; hence we know the poet is a month or more out of the season when, in "Al Fresco," he makes it bloom with the buttercup and the clover:--

"The dandelions and buttercups
Gild all the lawn; the drowsy bee
Stumbles among the clover-tops,
And summer sweetens all but me."

Of course the dandelion blooms occasionally throughout the whole summer, especially where the grass is kept short, but its proper season, when it "gilds all the lawn," is, in every part of the country, some weeks earlier than the tall buttercup and the clover. These bloom in June in New England and New York, and are contemporaries of the daisy. In the meadows and lawns, the dandelion drops its flower and holds aloft its sphere of down, touching the green surface as with a light frost, long before the clover and the buttercup have formed their buds. In "Al Fresco" our poet is literally in clover, he is reveling in the height of the season, the full tide of summer is sweeping around him, and he has riches enough without robbing May of her dandelions. Let him say,--

"The daisies and the buttercups
Gild all the lawn."

... A weed which one ruthlessly demolishes when he finds it hiding from the plow amid the strawberries, or under the currant-bushes and grapevines, is the dandelion; yet who would banish it from the meadows or the lawns, where it copies in gold upon the green expanse the stars of the midnight sky? After its first blooming comes its second and finer and more spiritual inflorescence, when its stalk, dropping its more earthly and carnal flower, shoots upward, and is presently crowned by a globe of the most delicate and aerial texture. It is like the poet's dream, which succeeds his rank and golden youth. This globe is a fleet of a hundred airy balloons, each one of which bears a seed which it is destined to drop far from the parent source.

Source: "The Writings of John Burroughs," by John Burroughs

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An account of dandelion coffee from Susanna Moodie... (excerpt)

The first year we came to this country, I met with an account of dandelion coffee, published in the New York Albion, given by a Dr. Harrison, of Edinburgh, who earnestly recommended it as an article of general use.

"It possesses," he says, "all the fine flavour and exhilarating properties of coffee, without any of its deleterious effects. The plant being of a soporific nature, the coffee made from it when drank at night produces a tendency to sleep, instead of exciting wakefulness, and may be safely used as a cheap and wholesome substitute for the Arabian berry, being equal in substance and flavour to the best Mocha coffee."

I was much struck with this paragraph at the time, and for several years felt a great inclination to try the Doctor's coffee; but something or other always came in the way, and it was put off till another opportunity. During the fall of '35, I was assisting my husband in taking up a crop of potatoes in the field, and observing a vast number of fine dandelion roots among the potatoes, it brought the dandelion coffee back to my memory, and I determined to try some for our supper. Without saying anything to my husband, I threw aside some of the roots, and when we left work, collecting a sufficient quantity for the experiment, I carefully washed the roots quite clean, without depriving them of the fine brown skin which covers them, and which contains the aromatic flavour, which so nearly resembles coffee that it is difficult to distinguish it from it while roasting.

I cut my roots into small pieces, the size of a kidney-bean, and roasted them on an iron baking-pan in the stove-oven, until they were as brown and crisp as coffee. I then ground and transferred a small cupful of the powder to the coffee-pot, pouring upon it scalding water, and boiling it for a few minutes briskly over the fire. The result was beyond my expectations. The coffee proved excellent--far superior to the common coffee we procured at the stores.

To persons residing in the bush, and to whom tea and coffee are very expensive articles of luxury, the knowledge of this valuable property of a plant scattered so abundantly through their fields, would prove highly beneficial. For years we used no other article; and my Indian friends who frequented the house gladly adopted the root, and made me show them the whole process of manufacturing it into coffee.

Experience taught me that the root of the dandelion is not so good when applied to this purpose in the spring as it is in the fall. I tried it in the spring, but the juice of the plant, having contributed to the production of leaves and flowers, was weak, and destitute of the fine bitter flavour so peculiar to coffee. The time of gathering the potato crop is the best suited for collecting and drying the roots of the dandelion; and as they always abound in the same hills, both may be accomplished at the same time. Those who want to keep a quantity for winter use may wash and cut up the roots, and dry them on boards in the sun. They will keep for years, and can be roasted when required.

Few of our colonists are acquainted with the many uses to which this neglected but most valuable plant may be applied. I will point out a few which have come under my own observation, convinced as I am that the time will come when this hardy weed, with its golden flowers and curious seed-vessels, which form a constant plaything to the little children rolling about and luxuriating among the grass, in the sunny month of May, will be transplanted into our gardens, and tended with due care.

The dandelion planted in trenches, and blanched to a beautiful cream-colour with straw, makes an excellent salad, quite equal to endive, and is more hardy and requires less care.

Source: "Roughing it in the Bush," by Susanna Moodie, 1800's.

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Little Earth Stars

To some the dandelion is a weed; but not to me, unless it takes more than its share of space, for I always miss these little earth stars when they are absent. They intensify the sunshine shimmering on the lawn, making one smile involuntarily when seeing them. Moreover, they awaken pleasant memories, for a childhood in which dandelions had no part is a defective experience.

Source: "The Home Acre," by E. P. Roe

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Varieties of Dandelions by Neltje Blanchan

COMMON DANDELION; BLOWBALL; LION'S-TOOTH; PEASANT'S CLOCK (Taraxacum Taraxacum; T. Densleonis of Gray) Chicory family

Flower-head - Solitary, golden yellow, to 2 in. across, containing 150 to 200 perfect ray florets on a flat receptacle at the top of a hollow, milky scape 2 to 18 in. tall.

Leaves: From a very deep, thick, bitter root; oblong to spatulate in outline, irregularly jagged.

Preferred Habitat - Lawns, fields, grassy waste places.

Flowering Season - Every month in the year.

Distribution - Around the civilized world.

"Dear common flower that grow'st beside the way,
Fringing the dusty road with harmless gold. . . . .

Gold such as thine ne'er drew the Spanish prow
Through the primeval hush of Indian seas,
Nor wrinkled the lean brow
Of age, to rob the lover's heart of ease.
'Tis the spring's largess, which she scatters now
To rich and poor alike, with lavish hand
Though most hearts never understand
To take it at God's value, but pass by
The offered wealth with unrewarded eye."

Let the triumphant Anglo-Saxon with dreams of expansion that include the round earth, the student of sociology who wishes an insight into cooperative methods as opposed to individualism, the young man anxious to learn how to get on, parents with children to be equipped for the struggle for existence, business men and employers of labor, all sit down beside the dandelion and take its lesson to heart. How has it managed without navies and armies - for it is no imperialist - to land its peaceful legions on every part of the civilized world and take possession of the soil? How can this neglected wayside composite weed triumph over the most gorgeous hothouse individual on which the horticulturist expends all the science at his command; to flourish where others give up the struggle defeated; to send its vigorous offspring abroad prepared for similar conquest of adverse conditions wherever met to attract myriads of customers to its department store, and by consummate executive ability to make every visitor unwittingly contribute to its success? Any one who doubts the dandelion's fitness to survive, should humble himself by spending days and weeks on his knees, trying to eradicate the plant from even one small lawn with a knife, only to find the turf starred with golden blossoms, or, worse still from his point of view, hoary with seed balloons, the following spring.

Deep, very deep, the stocky bitter root penetrates where heat and drought affect it not, nor nibbling rabbits, moles, grubs of insects, and other burrowers break through and steal. Cut off the upper portion only with your knife, and not one, but several, plants will likely sprout from what remains; and, however late in the season, will economize stem and leaf to produce flowers and seeds, cuddled close within the tuft, that set all your pains at naught. "Never say die" is the dandelion's motto. An exceedingly bitter medicine is extracted from the root of this dandelion, formerly known as T. officinale. Likewise are the leaves bitter. Although they appear so early in the spring, they must be especially tempting to grazing cattle and predaceous insects, the rosettes remain untouched, while other succulent, agreeable plants are devoured wholesale. Only Italians and other thrifty Old-World immigrants, who go about then with sack and knife collecting the fresh young tufts, give the plants pause but even they leave the roots intact. When boiled like spinach or eaten with French salad dressing, the bitter juices are extracted from the leaves or disguised - mean tactics by an enemy outside the dandelion's calculation. All nations know the plant by some equivalent for the name dent de lion = lion's tooth, which the jagged edges of the leaves suggest.

Presently a hollow scape arises to display the flower above the surrounding grass. Bridge builders and constructing engineers know how yielding and economical, yet how invincibly strong, is the hollow tube. March winds may buffet and bend the dandelion's stem without harm. How children delight to split this slippery tube, and run it in and out of their mouths until curls form! At the top of the scape is a double involucre of narrow, green, leaf-like scales similar to what all composites have. Half the involucre bends downward to protect the flower from crawling pilferers, half stands erect to play the role for the community of florets within that the calyx does for individual blossoms. When it is time to close the dandelion shop, business being ended for the day, this upper-half of the involucre protects it like the heavy shutters merchants put up at their windows.

Seated on a fleshy receptacle, not one flower, but often two hundred minute, perfect florets generously cooperate. "In union there is strength" is another motto adopted, not only by the chicory clan, but by the entire horde of composites. Each floret of itself could hope for no attention from busy insects; united, how gorgeously attractive these disks of overlapping rays are! Doubtless each tiny flower was once a five-petaled blossom, for in the five teeth at the top and the five lines are indications that once distinct parts have been welded together to form a more showy and suitable corolla. Each floret insures cross-pollination from insects crawling over the head, much as the minute yellow tubes in the center of a daisy do (q.v.). Quantities of small bees, wasps, flies, butterflies, and beetles - over a hundred species of insects - come seeking the nectar that wells up in each little tube, and the abundant pollen, which are greatly appreciated in early spring, when food is so scarce. In rainy weather and at night, when its benefactors are not flying, the canny dandelion closes completely to protect its precious attractions. Because the plant, which is likely to bloom every month in the year, may not always certainly reckon on being pollinated by insects, each neglected floret will curl the two spreading, sticky branches of its style so far backward that they come in contact with any pollen that has been carried out of the tube by the sweeping brushes on their tips. Occasional self-fertilization is surely better than setting no seed at all when insects fail. Not a chance does the dandelion lose to "get on."

After flowering, it again looks like a bud, lowering its head to mature seed unobserved. Presently rising on a gradually lengthened scape to elevate it where there is no interruption for the passing breeze from surrounding rivals, the transformed head, now globular, white, airy, is even more exquisite, set as it is with scores of tiny parachutes ready to sail away. A child's breath puffing out the time of day, a vireo plucking at the fluffy ball for lining to put in its nest, the summer breeze, the scythe, rake, and mowing machines, sudden gusts of winds sweeping the country before thunderstorms - these are among the agents that set the flying vagabonds free. In the hay used for packing they travel to foreign lands in ships, and, once landed, readily adapt themselves to conditions as they find them. After soaking in the briny ocean for twenty-eight days - long enough for a current to carry them a thousand miles along the coast - they are still able to germinate.

The DWARF DANDELION, CYNTHIA, or VIRGINIA GOATSBEARD (Adepogon Virginicum; formerly Krigia Virginica) - with from two to six long-peduncled, flat, deep yellow or reddish-orange flower heads, about an inch and a half across, on the summit of its stem from May to October, elects to grow in moist meadows, woodlands, and shady rocky places. How it glorifies them! From a tuffet of spatulate, wavy-toothed or entire leaves, the smooth, shining, branching stem arises bearing a single oblong, clasping leaf below the middle. Particularly beautiful is its silvery seed-ball, the pappus consisting of about a dozen hairlike bristles inside a ring of small oblong scales, on which the seed sails away. Range, from Massachusetts to Manitoba, south to Georgia and Kansas.

A charming little plant, the CAROLINA DWARF DANDELION or KRIGIA (A. Carolinianum), once confounded with the above, sends up several unbranched scapes from the same tuffet. It blooms in dry, sandy soil from April to August, from Maine and Minnesota to the Gulf States.

Like a small edition of Lowell's "dear common flower" is the TALL DANDELION, or AUTUMNAL HAWKBIT (Leontodon autumnale), its slender, wiry, branching scape six inches to two feet high, terminated by several flower-heads, each on a separate peduncle, which is usually a little thickened and scaly just below it. Only forty to seventy five-toothed ray florets spread in a flat golden disk from an oblong involucre. They close in rainy weather and at night. From June to November, in spite of its common name, it blooms in fields and along roadsides, its brownish seed-plumes rapidly following; but these are produced at the frightfully extravagant cost of over two hundred thousand grains of pollen to each head, it is estimated. The Greek generic name, meaning lion's tooth, refers to the shape of the lobes of the narrowly oblong leaves in a tuft at the base. Range, from New Jersey and Ohio far northward. Naturalized from Europe and Asia.

Source: "Wild Flowers," by Neltje Blanchan

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