Yes, you read that right — I said, “Dandelion Delight,” alright. Many people despise these little yellow flowers that pop up in lawns in early spring, and do everything they can to eradicate them. In fact, there may be no more-hated flower than the hapless dandelion.
You may be thinking, “Hey, aren’t you all about native plants now? What gives?” It’s true, the common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) isn’t native to North America, and I sure wouldn’t advise you to plant it on purpose. But it’s here and it’s widespread, and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. But there’s a silver lining to this dilemma, and it’s the fact that dandelions are sometimes useful to early spring pollinators.
For example, right now there are very few native flowers blooming in my part of Ohio. And yet some of the pollinators have already emerged or migrated back. Luckily for these early bird insects, dandelions are a plentiful food source to get them through until more of our native flowers are blooming. The other day I went to a local nature preserve that has a thriving population of dandelions, because I wanted to show you some of the pollinators that were feeding on them.
First was the black-shouldered drone fly shown above. Then I found one of my favorites, a hoverfly. I believe this may be the American hoverfly (and I hope to confirm that when my new field guide arrives very soon!).
Butterflies may not be as efficient at pollinating as bees and flies, but they still make a valuable contribution to this essential step in botanical reproduction. Small amounts of pollen can attach to their wings or other body parts as they feed on nectar, thus allowing them to inadvertently carry that pollen to other flowers. On this day I saw many red admirals and American ladies feeding on the pretty yellow dandelion blooms.
And check out this greater bee fly with his long rigid proboscis. Unlike a butterfly, this fly can’t retract his “tongue.” That seems like it would be cumbersome, but he apparently makes it work.
His lovely wing pattern at first tricked me into thinking he was a tiger bee fly (which I wrote about last summer), but I quickly realized he was different. In fact, I had only seen my first of this species a couple days before, when I visited Goll Woods to photograph wildflowers.
I found a nice article about greater bee flies by Eric Eaton, so if you’d like to read more about them, I suggest you go to Eric’s blog, here.
So I hope this will give you pause the next time you’re considering yanking dandelions from your lawn, or even worse, pouring toxic chemicals on them. If we can learn to see them as beneficial to the ecosystem, and even — gasp! — enjoy their beauty, perhaps we can eventually learn to live in harmony with the rest of the life on this amazing planet.
Have you read Brigette Mars’ book, Dandelion Medicine? The same nutrients that nourish insects helps humans. You can buy dandelion tea online.
I haven’t read that book, Marian, but will make a note to take a look at it. I’ve tried dandelion tea and didn’t really like it though. If I remember, it was sort of bitter.
I loved this tribute to the dandelion! We let them grow everywhere… first in the spring we have a sea of lavender and purple with henbit and johnny jump ups, and next comes the sea of yellow dandelion. People from the street across the way often ask what those yellow wildflowers are, and every time they’re surprised it’s that WEED, the dandelion. I’ve learned to respect all weeds. Daisy deer taught me a lot about observing all of the insects and mammals and birds that feast on weeds and seeds all year long. They’re all important in the ecosystem!
I had to mow my lawn today for the first time this season, and was sad to see that most of my dandelions got chopped off. They’re so pretty on the green grass!
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Thanks for the defense of the great dandelion, Kim! It is a delicious salad addition in Spring and the root can do wonders for your liver and stomach (to which I can attest). Vitamins A, C and K and the list goes on! There was a reason settlers brought it with them:).
Yes, I should have mentioned the health benefits of dandelions too. Thanks, Cindy!