“If the dandelion didn't crop up in our lawns, we would call it a wildflower. If it did better in our vegetable gardens, we'd call it a salad leaf. If more people used it for folk cures, we'd call it a medicine. As it is, we call it a weed, and much of what is written about it concerns how to kill it.”
– Emily Green, “Ode to the dandelion, jilted flower of spring” LA Times, 2005

A dandelion - whether to ponder, grow, or eat - may seem trivial in the face of large scale problem of climate change. But we have adopted it as the land-side(1) poster-child for our own (human) need to cultivate adaptability, nimbleness, and resilience in the face of a scale of uncertainty unknown not only in our generational and collective memory, but within our whole geological epoch, the Holocene.

The extent of change that humans have wrought on the biosphere is so extreme that scientists are debating whether or not to categorize this as a new geological era- The Anthropocene (named for the humans who caused it, and whose start date is arguable- farming? steam engines? industrial cities? nuclear bombs?). As greenhouse gases rise to levels unknown in human history, the climate is emerging as a foreground factor in our consciousness, rather than a background assumption. It is full of changes occurring at a more rapid and uneven tempo than our cultural experience has prepared us for -- glaciers collapsing erratically, sea levels rising perceptibly per year, sudden storms, unusually long droughts, and strange weather behaviors happening within one generation, not over millennia. Many of us are too frightened to look at this as more than a series of unknown, uncertain, potential catastrophes. Or we do not have the information to digest or prepare for the uncertainty. But here we are, with scary potential futures becoming more and more present in our everyday lives.

Our collaborative group -- of artists, cooks, ponderers, and doers – rallied around the dandelion as a conversation tool and a lens, to talk about our changing climate. We are considering this problem of coping with “the new abnormal” from a position of opportunity, and thus we decided to highlight this highly adaptable weed- a humble, ignored, hated, adored, and totally interesting plant- to guide some explorations of our land-based relationship with climate.

The dandelion is native to Europe and Asia, and was originally imported to America as an important member of any Puritan or European settler’s home garden pharmacopia. It is now naturalized throughout North America, southern Africa, South America, Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia, and India. It occurs in all 50 states of the USA, most Canadian provinces, and many states in Mexico.

It is perceived as a noxious weed in the contexts of “perfect lawn” culture, and is considered an agricultural pest – its presence among many crops worldwide reinforces perceptions of dandelion as a  significant economic liability because of its competition for resources. However, some farmers appreciate dandelion’s role both as a pollinator crop and as a redistributor of soil nutrition by merit of its long taproot, that can bring nutrients up into the reach of shorter-rooted plants.

Many people don’t realize dandelion is technically an invasive plant - a bonus, avoiding much of the xenophobia some plants can produce! In fact, wherever the plant has become naturalized, it’s been taken up as medicine for inflammation, digestive, kidney and liver ailments. Its usage is documented in the Chinese medical record, and was known to the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans.

Dandelion goes by many names: the official Latin name is Taraxacum officinale, but it has many English common names (of which some are no longer in use), including blowball, lion's-tooth, cankerwort,, yellow-gowan, Irish daisy, monks-head, priest's-crown and puff-ball; other common names include, fairyclock, pee-a-bed, and wet-a-bed. The word “dandelion” comes from the French dent de lion (“lion’s tooth”, referring to the deeply serrated “teeth” along the edges of the leaves).

Next time you consider eradicating a dandelion from your lawn, or pass one that’s thriving along the side of a highway, consider making a wish and disseminating this new information, seeds of change, in changing times…

Climate change, real and present, is not well engaged -- what if everyday bursts of joy, and unexpected alliances can emerge from engaging with dandelions, which could help guide people into exploring climate change in new, material and personal ways?

“We can understand, too, that natural species are chosen not because they are "good to eat" but because they are "good to think.”
– Claude Lévi-Strauss


(1) Land-side poster children include successful cosmopolitan species such as Japanese knotweed, kudzu, and garlic mustard. Ocean-side poster children include several spcies of edible jellyfish.



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• The Dandelion Memorial Reader

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• Loss, Danger, Joy:
Questions for Climate Chaos

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