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No Mow May

4 May 2023
Biology, Climate change

In the UK, the month of May is the subject of a campaign by the charity, Plant Life. One of their cohorts actually sells wild flower seeds. A long time ago, when I was younger and didn’t know a lot about gardening, I purchased some seeds from them but by the end of the year they were so rampant they had taken over most of the garden – even up to the French windows. It took another year to get rid of them – and they still pop up now and again. Hence, a bit of caution is necessary when going to the link at https://phys.org/news/2023-04-dandelions-lifeline-bees-brink.html … as we are encouraged to love dandelions as they are central to providing wild bees with pollen – in an urban environment. Dandelions bloom in late April – the traditional month to collect the flower heads and make dandelion wine [to drink at christmas]. The problem is finding a patch of flowers that have not been marked by dogs and foxes. Dandelions do, however, have a way of combatting the sprays by closing their flower heads when the sun is not shining – or partialy so. Hence, pick your flowers to make wine on a bright morning following a cloudy wet day.

The campaign is basically aimed at big urban conurbation dwellers where dandelions find a place to grow in lawns, or between paving stones, or up against walls and fences. As such, they are an adaptable plant which is why they have survived. They were being munched by mammoths a few thousand years ago – along with the ubiquitous buttercups. Out in the suburbs, or in the countryside, dandelions are a sign of spring and warming weather as road side verges tend to be full of them. Late April/ early May is the traditonal time they bloom – so they are on time and in tune with nature this year, as there are a lot of them around. The same goes for scented hawthorn blossom – traditonally known as May Blossom – as it is just coming into bloom. No evidence of global warming in this year’s nature feast. None at all.

The thrust of the campaign is not to mow your lawn in the month of May in order to let dandelions thrive. Why do people seem to hate dandelions – as they are such a nice looking wild flower? The answer is simple – one seed head from a dandelion can create numerous new plants in places where you don’t want them to grow. On top of that children like to pick the seed heads and blow them in order to watch them float in the air, sometimes travelling quite a long way – next door’s garden perhaps, or a nicely manicured area of your garden. These are highly versatile plants and it is true that a lawn brimming with dandelion flowers is quite beautiful – but not so much a lawn full of dandelion leaves. The longer you leave them the deeper the roots penetrate – reaching right down into the subsoil. Not easy to eradicate when they get to that situation. Best to pull  when young and the roots are just a few inches deep. If a small piece of root is left in the soil they will just keep coming up and trying to flower – all through the summer. However, dandelions are programmed to flower in late April in the UK and then have a rest. The link says dandelions flower all the year long but I’m not sure this is correct as there are a lot of plants that look like dandelions, such as the coltsfoots, that flower in later months. They will try and flower over a long period if the gardener keeps on pouncing on them without getting rid of the full root system. Perhaps the author at the link is showing his former status as a dandelion puller.

Dandelions have been used for a variety of folk remedies and uses, not least as a substitute for coffee [using the powdered roots]. It has been used to make wine [most common flowers have been used, including hawthorn blossom, elder blossom, and primroses, as well as fragrant rose petals etc]. The French even adapted dandelion leaves as an alternative to lettuce in summer salads. One way to dispose of a plant that refuses to go away. Eat it. They call it endive. You get the benefit of all those nutrients the deep roots pull out of the sub soil. Saying that it would also mean that adding dandelion leaves to your compost heap would have a positive effect on the end product. Hence, in all its shapes and forms the dandelion is indeed a rather interesting plant that has been used by generations of people down through the ages.

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