Taraxacum officinale (weed)

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Taraxacum officinale (click on image to enlarge it)
Author(s): Franz Eugen Köhler
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Taraxacum officinale (weed) Weber ex Wiggers - (dandelion)

The species is a common perennial weed in temperate regions around the world. It often colonizes roadsides, pastures, orchards and crop fields like cereals, soybean and alfalfa. During a survey in south-eastern Canada, about 25% of the maize, soybean and wheat fields were infested. It is also a host to various insect pests and plant diseases. The wind-blown seeds easily disperse and overwinter. The plant itself can also persist under snow cover.

For control, cultivation and herbicides are recommended. Hoeing and mowing before flowering will reduce the seeds, but the plant can easily resprout if part of the tap root remains. Mowing is often not effective on the low-lying leaves.

Young dandelion leaves can be cooked or eaten as salad and the roots are also edible. In some countries it is even marketed. The plant has further medicinal properties. However, care needs to be taken to avoid herbicide treated plants. The plant was probably introduced from Europe into several regions because of its beneficial properties.

Vernacular names
• Deutsch: Löwenzahn
gewöhnlicher Löwenzahn
• English: dandelion
common dandelion
• Español: achicoria amarga
• Français: pissenlit

T. officinale grows to a height of 10-30 cm, has a very short main stem and is characterized by a long and strong tap root (1 m or more) and its milky latex. The leaves form a rosette at the base of the plant. They are around 10-20 cm long and have a strongly serrate, dentate or incised margin, especially in its basal half. Typically, there are several flower stems (up to 50 cm high) arising from the base, each terminating in a composite flower, 2-5 cm wide. The flower head has 30-40 short bracts and about 250 flowers. The bright yellow flowers mature from the outside to the centre of the head and eventually form a ball of elongated fruits (3 mm), each with a with a white, hairy pappus. Although the flowers are frequently visited by bees, most pollen is infertile and the seeds typically develop without being fertilized.

For details see the review by Stewart-Wade et al., 2002 and the respective page in Wikipedia.