Tuesday, April 5, 2016
I love Dandelions. I love how they grow close to the ground in early spring with a bright yellow flower. Mixed with various colors of blue of Viola, Wild Violets, Bluetts and other wildflowers. Living in the country, I can enjoy them spring their tall heads in the middle of the summer before I mow them down that week.
I have had the patience to pick the toothy edged dandelion leaves. They aren't that bad. Sort of like eating Kale with a little bitterness. My grandmother used to gather wild leaves to make wild salad which I have tried to recreate. I have not eaten the roots.
To make dandelion wine with the flowers, you have to add sugar. I don't know of anyone who has made any dandelion wine. I think that is just a romantic notion. Why would you do that when there are plenty of wild muscadines or blackberries to do the job.
Now what does Dandelions have to do with Ecology. They are naturalized plants. A naturalized organism is an introduced species that has developed a sustainable population but has not become invasive by crowding out native species.
The story is that Indians called dandelions white man's footprints. We think of North America colonized in the 1600's by the English. But the Spanish were first. The WPA built a small Spanish style fort they called Coronado Heights near Lindsborg, Kansas to commemorate Coronado passing through the area in the 1600's. The first Spanish settlement was in St. Augustine, Florida in September 8, 1565.
Who can forget Hernando DeSoto's brutal exploration of the Southeast in 1539 culminating with his death along the Mississippi River in 1542. The complex Kingdoms described by the Spanish were gone when the English came. Disease decimated the Native American populations.
There are similar plants in North America and Europe in that both continents broke apart in geologic history which is quite a long time compared to our lives and the history of man but a short time in the changes of a species.
The introduction of potatoes from the New World to the Old World increased the Old World's population because it was such a hardy food source. The receipt of deer during the first Thanksgiving was an incredible gift by English standards. North America offered meat on a regular basis for the colonist. The 1600s was a hard scrabble time for colonist but probably a better situation that what they left behind in England, Scotland and Ireland.
There have been accidental introductions of species and intentional introductions. Some have greater effects than others. Some have happened so long ago, we really don't know how they affected the ecosystem. This is true for the dandelion. It had traveled from the East Coast to the West Coast by the end of the 1600's.