Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Bring it on dan-de-lion!

Dandelions are an "In Danger" species.

They are not "Endangered", ("a species present in such small numbers that it is at risk of extinction"), but rather "In Danger" (a species present in such large numbers and in so many unwanted places as to constantly be at risk of individual extinction at the hands of all those who are really, really annoyed by them.)

You would think if you were "in danger" you would go out of your way not to draw attention to yourself. You would try to blend in with your surroundings and match the colors and textures within which you like to hang out. You would never, ever be a jagged-edged plant snuggled in the midst of soft blades of grass, or a tall yellow flower looming above a solid green background.

And you definitely wouldn't hide out along the outer edges of your target territory with half of your body nestled in the thick grassy lawn, and the remainder blatantly hanging out over the sidewalk like a black spider on white shower tile - "I'll just crouch down really low. Yup. They can't see me now."

But if you are not endangered, that is to say you've got the numbers, then I guess that you just wouldn't care.

There was a time in my life when I would have mocked and ridiculed the very thought of anyone wandering the perimeter of their property - weeding tool in right hand, plastic bag in left - eyes peeled for the slightest hint of sharp leaf angularity or startling gold coloring - dropping to a combative squat at the first hint of "dent-de-lion" - plunging their snake-tongued blade in quest of the unseen, infinitely deep tap root - bagging the trophy - wearily forcing aching legs to straighten - and moving on in search of the next prey.

Now every day I patrol the border of my land doing exactly that - and I love it.

I think it's my residual hunter-gatherer heritage - a rekindling of the basic primal urges that fueled our prehistoric ancestors' survival.

Some modern weed stalkers use lawn fertilizers or herbicides as their weapon of choice. These hands-off methods sort of satisfy the predator portion of our genetic makeup - but not really. I prefer hand-to-root combat - seeking out and tracking down the dandelions, prying them out, and tossing their pelts into my plastic prey-pouch - hunting AND gathering - paying homage to my roots, and showing respect for my quarry.

And they are worthy of our admiration.

First, you just gotta love their ingenuity and tenacity

"The head of a dandelion is not actually a flower; it is a cluster of flowers ..... between 150 and 200 of them, each bursting with a type of nectar that is irresistible to bees, who swarm from plant to plant, pollinating each one with fanatic loyalty.

"And even if an individual dandelion is missed by the pollinating insects, it is equipped to pollinate itself.....

"The seeds, once they develop, have two parts, the actual seed, which is called an achene, and a fluffy, parachute-like tuft of hairs called a pappus, which catches the wind and can carry the seed as far as 25 miles in a stiff breeze. The achene is covered with little hooks that give it tremendous gripping ability; when the seed lands, it grabs the ground tightly and quickly works its way into the soil." (

And secondly, in the right setting, they are aesthetically pleasing. An uncultivated field filled with bright golden dandelions is a thing of beauty - the more the merrier, the bigger the better - weed heads packed wall to wall, heads of jagged leaves larger than the unhealthiest "Fried Onion Blossom". It is a tribute to Nature's ability to decorate itself.

But lawns are not natural. Neither are gardens.

Dead branches are natural. Lifeless bushes are natural. Plant diseases are natural. Dehydrated plants are natural. One shrub crowding out another is natural. Ground covers running amok are natural. Dandelions with wide spreading skirts that prevent anything else from sharing their food and drink are natural.

It is the nature of Nature to achieve abundance by occasionally being unattractive and disorderly. It is the nature of gardeners to seek perfection by tinkering with Nature.

Most horticultural fine-tuning is background work - in many instances the problem and the solution are visible only to the plantsman himself. But some things that need fixing are smack in yo' face - like a single taunting dandelion on an otherwise green lawn. To be just one weed away from flawless is enough to turn even the most laid-back, Type-B gatherer into a ranting and raving, Type-A+ hunter.

Bring it on dan-de-lion! Booyah!!!

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