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Bad Plants

Remind Me, Why Do We Hate Dandelions?

It's hard to make out the tiny blue wildflowers amidst these dandy lions, but in this particular wildflower preseve, the non-native "weed" appears to have neither colonized nor displaced any of the native flora. photo credit: Ketzel Levine, NPR hide caption

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photo credit: Ketzel Levine, NPR

It's a banner year for dandelions around Portland, I don't ever remember them looking so fulsome and jaunty before. They're strewn like wildflowers along parking strips, lawns and empty lots (the few that are left here in Boomtown) and by and large, their arrangements are quite picturesque.

So what's the deal? Why do millions of Americans prefer using 2,4-D to kill them instead of making dandelion fritters and enjoying the show?

No doubt the answer dates back to the heyday of the British lawn, rhapsodized and defended by no less a plant lover than one of my favorite garden writers, Anna Pavord who wrote, "dandelions are bullies. They simply had to go". At least she had the good grace to feel guilty about buying a weedkiller, but buy it and publicize it she did.

Perhaps a later blog needs to throw open the debate on 2,4-D, still very much in ample supply on the garden shelf but so clearly deserving of more consumer dissuasion. But the focus here is on the dandelion itself.

You'd be forgiven for thinking this gorgeous flower was a chrysanthemum, since both that venerable flower and this dandelion are in the same family (Asteraceae). The dandy's grown-up name is Taraxacum officinale, but at least once in its long life it was referred to as "piss-a-beds" because of its diuretic properties. photo credit: Ketzel Levine, NPR hide caption

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photo credit: Ketzel Levine, NPR

It's been two decades since the New York Times reported on the "weirdo" Maine farmer who canned dandelion greens. Today, there are dandelion cookbooks, dandelion dinners (strictly upmarket), dandelion blogs and in honor of Passover, Jewish dandelion news:

Conveying the misery of the Israelites' slavery, bitter herbs vary from place to place and even from family to family. Ashkenazim favor freshly ground or sliced, fresh horseradish root, bottled horseradish, or romaine lettuce. Sephardim prefer bitter greens such as endive, escarole, chicory, sorrel, arugula, dandelion, or watercress.

Nearing holiness, let us not forget that dandelions make wishes come true. You just have to do is put your lips together and blow. But if you really can't bear them yet know better than to use herbicides (what, me, guilt you?) garden writer Anne Lovejoy suggests you love them to death.