Dandelion Seeds: Prickly Fluffballs

Posted by on Jun 6, 2014 in flowers, seeds, spring, Unmowed Blog | 0 comments

Dandelion are a little like porcupines.

Each dandelion seed is a dry, hard, brown speck an eighth of an inch long, known in botanical terms as an “achene.” They’re stuck into the puffy top of the dandelion flower head, like pins stuck into a pincushion, or quills that are loosely attached to a porcupine’s skin. dandelion puffball 031Tiny barbs zig-zag along each edge of the seed. One puff of air, and the seed pulls loose from the plant and heads off into space. The wind blows the little fluffy parachutes for thousands of miles, over rivers and oceans and mountain ranges–or over the fence into your yard.

Eventually, the pointed seed gently comes to earth and touches down like a paratrooper, feet first. The umbrella-shaped parachute remains erect, and each touch of breeze makes the seed tilt back and forth, so that it embeds itself more firmly with every movement. The seed slowly penetrates the soil, working its way in deeper, like a barbed arrow, or a porcupine quill that embeds itself in flesh so firmly that you have to use pliers to pull them loose.

At the first touch of moisture, dandelion seeds germinate with explosive speed. Growth begins when the temperature is at least 50 degrees F, though light and warmth increase the rate of germination, which is at the max at about 77 degrees F. Tiny rootlets snake their way between grains of soil, in search of water and nutrients which flow back up the lengthening roots to power the growing plant.

Oh, great, you’re thinking. Dandelions embedding themselves all over the front yard. But to look on the bright side, dandelions are actually good for the lawn. The web of dandelion roots pry close-packed soil particles apart, effectively roto-tilling the earth, while at the same time they hold the loosened soil in place. A long taproot sucks calcium and other minerals from deep in the ground, and carries the nutrients upwards to the leaves. Soon the first layer of dandelion leaves decomposes into a nutrient-filled compost.

So dandelions, far from harming a lawn, actually enrich the soil for other plants. For free, they fertilize the grass.


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