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In praise of the dandelion

An Outdoor View

Posted: June 22, 2012 - 9:39am

After 34 years of heating my house with wood, I'm having a gas furnace installed. This week, I was showing two guys where I wanted the gas line buried. In the process, we had to walk across what I call my "lawn," which is solid dandelions.

"Please don't walk on the dandelions," I said, only half kidding, because they were so beautiful. "I've got a good crop this year."

One of the guys, probably thinking I had fought the Dandelion Wars and lost, said, "Once they get started, it's hard to get rid of them."

"Get rid of them? I planted them!"

I'm not sure he believed me, but it's true. I collected dandelion flowers that had gone to seed and broadcast them around my 1-acre lot. I didn't have to cultivate or fertilize the soil, or pay someone to bring in topsoil. I didn't have to buy expensive seed or exotic plants from a nursery. My flowers don't have to be planted each year. They never need weeding.

Yet, some people, instead of engaging their killer instincts in fishing, hunting or other worthwhile outdoor pursuits, waste their time trying to rid the world of dandelions.

I lived in Anchorage before moving to the Kenai Peninsula. One reason I chose to live in Sterling was its rural character. Before leaving Anchorage, I sold my lawnmower and swore I'd never own another. A few years ago, I broke down and bought a weed whacker. After the dandelions have gone to seed, I trim everything down to ground level. After a few years of this, a close-to-the-ground sub-species of dandelion has evolved.

To me, dandelions epitomize the human spirit. The harder you work to get rid of them, the harder they resist your efforts. Ya gotta love 'em.

Dandelions are fine and noble, not something to become obsessed about or to fly into a rage about. All parts of the dandelion are edible. Fine restaurants serve the leaves in salads. The roots and leaves make healthful tea. The blossoms make jelly and wine.

The reason dandelions were introduced to North America by European settlers was to provide an early-spring source of pollen for honeybees. My Sterling beekeeper-friends say that the first pollen their bees bring back to the hive is from dandelions, the only flower in bloom.

Dandelions are like the songbirds, perennial heralds of spring. Without their golden glow, peninsula roadsides would be bleak for the first two weeks of June. Instead, they light the way until the arrival of other attractive "weeds," the lupine and fireweed.

Some exotic plants are bad news for native vegetation, and can be detrimental to fish and wildlife habitat, but dandelions aren't among them. Dandelions don't do well in the wild, but confine themselves to roadsides and cultivated areas.

Ask people why they live in Alaska. One of the main reasons is their love of wildlife. Yet, they plant exotic trees, shrubs and flowers around their houses, then spend a lot of time, money and energy defending that stuff by declaring war on the very wildlife they claim to love.

No thanks. You'll never see me on some vain crusade, feverishly yanking out, chopping up and poisoning beautiful, harmless flowers. I'd rather be fishing.

Les Palmer can be reached at les.palmer@rocketmail.com.

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