Where it is green just a few days ago, there are now hundreds of them. Spots of yellow dotting the hillside alongside our house. As soon as the sun comes up, their rays of sunshine open up, facing up towards the sky, lapping up the sunshine. Dusk descends, and their yellow heads close up again, as if they are shutting their eyes and bidding good night.
I’ve grown to admire them, as they represent the earliest flowers of our Nederland spring. But I’m the rarity among home owners. Because the lovely yellow flowers I am talking about are the dandelion. Yes, the same dandelion that suburban home owners curse as the pop up, ruining their otherwise perfect green lawns of Kentucky Bluegrass.
Those same owners will refer to them as weeds, and will do everything in their power to eradicate them. They will spend countless hours at the Home Depot, buying toxic sprays that they will saturate said lawns with. They will purchase tools to pry their roots out of the ground. They will work and work until every last dandelion is gone. And they wouldn’t dare do something that every little kid did sometime during their childhood — pluck up the seeding white head and blow as hard as they can, dispersing seed everywhere.
Working as a Park Ranger in the national parks, I learned a lot about what truly is a weed. And my definition of what a weed is, and what a suburban home owner deems a weed differ greatly. Ecologists and botanists who work in wilderness areas think of invasive species as weeds. Invasive species are plants that are not native to the area, usually brought over from other countries, like Europe or Asia, when some unsuspecting explorer or tourist got something on their shoes or clothes and accidentally introduced it to America.
The funny thing is, many of these invasive species are lovely flowers to look at. In fact, some people plant invasive species into their gardens on purpose, because they are so attractive. Foxglove is an invasive species that grew in the Sierra. Plant ecologists were constantly pulling them out.
Here in Nederland, the invasive that is abundant throughout the parks and forest, as well as our neighborhood is Oxeye Daisy. As the name implies, it is a lovely white daisy that populates meadows and the edges of forest. It’s a persistent species that has spread like wildfire throughout the Nederland area. I once spent an entire day, trying to pull Oxeye Daisy from a meadow in a local county park, as I worked on a volunteer project. The Oxeye Daisy won, as it seems even more populous now than it did two years ago.
Dandelions can trace their roots all the way back to the Mayflower and Pilgrims. And it wasn’t an accident that they brought dandelions over. Dandelions have long been used as nature’s medicine to help with everything from warts to heart ailments.
Dandelions have great nutritional benefit, something the Native Americans embraced. Dandelions can be used as to make a salad, and also to make teas, soothing whatever ails you.
So, as I enjoy these days of the dandelion blooming, I don’t curse, but rather enjoy everything they have to offer. They are just another part of nature’s patchwork quilt.