Lions’ teeth or cats’ ears?

I’ve neglected weeding in my garden lately, and so there have been lots of dandelions sprouting up all over the place. The name ‘dandelion’ comes from the French words dents de lion, which means ‘teeth of the lion’ and is a reference to the jagged shape of their leaves. They belong to the genus known as Taraxacum.

There are different kinds of Taraxacum species in the world, which have certain characteristics in common:

“The leaves are 5–25 cm long or longer, simple and basal, entire or lobed, forming a rosette above the central taproot. The flower heads are yellow to orange colored, and are open in the daytime but closed at night. The heads are borne singly on a hollow stem (scape) which rises 4–75 cm[5] above the leaves and exudes a milky sap (latex) when broken.

A rosette may produce several flowering stems at a time. The flower heads are 2–5 cm in diameter and consists entirely of ray florets. The flower heads mature into a spherical “clocks”[6] containing many single-seeded fruits called achenes. Each achene is attached to a pappus of fine hairs, which enable wind-aided dispersal over long distances.” (Wikipedia)

I had lots of these popping up all over the lawn, but the lawnmower took off their tops, so I can’t show you any photos right now.

And I have JUST DISCOVERED that the ones I *did* photograph for you today are in fact NOT true dandelions, though they may be a similar species known as cats’ ears (Hypochaeris), which are so easily confused with dandelions that they are called ‘false dandelions’. (Poor dears…)

“Both plants carry similar flowers which form into windborne seeds. However, dandelion flowers are borne singly on unbranched, hairless and leafless, hollow stems, while catsear flowering stems are branched, solid and carry bracts.

Both plants have a basal rosette of leaves and a central taproot. However, the leaves of dandelions are smooth or glabrous, whereas those of catsears are coarsely hairy.

Other plants with superficially similar flowers include hawkweeds (Hieracium) and hawksbeards (Crepis). These are both readily distinguished by their branched flowering stems which are usually hairy and bear leaves.” (Wikipedia)

After reading this description, I hurried outside into the garden to scrutinise them more closely.

Here is a photo of the leaves – it appears that they do not grow on the ground as a basal rosette, but emerge from the branching stem, and are indeed slightly hairy.

So does that mean that these are cats’ ears? Or hawkweeds? Or hawksbeards?

Leaves - clearly not dandelion

Leaves – clearly not dandelion

Do I have BOTH dandelions AND cats’ ears proliferating in my garden?

I read in an old reference book on gardening with herbs that dandelions – which are commonly regarded as weeds – are in fact edible, although they do have a very bitter taste. They are supposed to be a very effective diuretic and a good liver tonic, have a laxative effect, improve the digestion, strengthen tooth enamel, and ease aching joints and rheumatism. You can toss the leaves into a salad, or cook the entire plant in soups and stews.

I haven’t tried this yet…

And until I’m pretty durn sure of what I’m eating, I think I’m going to stick to the herbs that I bought at the nursery!

Yellow flower - dandelion or cats ears?

Yellow flower – dandelion or cats ears?

Regardless of whether these are dandelions or cats’ ears, they are all really good at propagating and at being dispersed by the wind, so it’s no wonder that they tend to take over the lawn as soon as you slack off in the weeding department:

“After pollination and flowering is finished, the dandelion flower dries out for a day or two and then the seed-bearing parachutes expand and lift out of the dried flower head. The dried part of the flower drops off and the parachute ball opens into a full sphere. The parachute drops off when the seed strikes an obstacle.

Often dandelions are observed growing in crevices near a wall; when the blowing fruits hit the wall, the feathery pappi comes off, dropping the dandelion seeds to the base of the wall or into a crevice. After the seed is released, the parachutes lose their feathered structure and take on a fuzzy, cotton-like appearance, often called “dandelion snow”.” (Wikipedia)

Look at this fluffy-looking parachute-ball:

Parachute ball - just waiting for a gust of wind!

Parachute ball – just waiting for a gust of wind!

Don’t you find that merely looking at it makes your nose tingle with an impending sneeze?

Aaaaahh…..

Close-up

Close-up

….. choooo!!!!!!!

4 thoughts on “Lions’ teeth or cats’ ears?

  1. Reggie, I think I have a lot of ‘cat’s ears’ in my yard. Here they’re called Hawkweed. The natives believed that by eating these flowers, hawks improved their eyesight.

    Did you ever read my post about dandelions? I have lots of those in my yard too. The wild hares love them.

    http://flandrumhill.wordpress.com/2009/04/27/green-gold-dining-on-dandelions/

    The astounding number of vitamins and minerals in dandelions are reason enough to give them a try.

    • Aaaaahhh! Doused with olive oil!!! That sounds like a good plan. The cuttlefish I’ll give a miss, but maybe I could have the dandelion accompanied by pieces of ciabatta or panini, soft on the inside and crispy on the outside, to lap up the remaining drizzles of olive oil… Oooh! And a handful of those little cherry tomatoes, full of juice and flavour, just very lightly fried so that they’re all warm inside.

      Oh dear, now I’m drooling again…

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