THE DANDELION can be the bane of tidy gardeners’ lives but if you want to create a haven for bees and butterflies then don’t launch a blitz attack against this native Irish wildflower.
People in Ireland grew up having a bit of a mixed relationship with these vibrant yellow flowers.
As youngsters I’d imagine there were very few of us who didn’t get a ‘pissy bed’, known as caisearbhán in Irish, tossed in our direction, with the promise that if it hit target we’d wake up on wet sheets in the morning!
Then of course, there was the delight of using the dandelion clocks to tell the time – not the most accurate means mind you, but it was a fantastic way to unwittingly spread dandelion seeds.
Growing up with dandelions
By the time we were all grown up, we had realised that those baby seeds made for lots of new adult dandelions. At some point, most of us have probably waged our own mini-war on them, digging deep to get at the roots, and feeling a surge of satisfaction when we have an entire plant in our grasp, or that plunge of disappointment when we discover that the root is broken.
However, my view on dandelions has changed over the years – it probably helps that we now live in the countryside and that my husband doesn’t feel his happiness will be incomplete without a manicured lawn!
Also, after starting to feel like it had been raining non-stop for the last two years, the recent sunshine brought out the bumblebees, and anything that makes bumblebees happy makes me happy!
Why we should love dandelions
Dandelions are perennial plants that produce pollen and nectar and are attractive to honeybees, bumblebees and solitary bees, as well as other pollinators, like butterflies, including the well-known peacock and small tortoiseshell. The plants are actually an early post-winter source of nectar for these much-loved insects after the winter, helping them prepare for the busy summer months.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is a valuable source of both nectar and pollen in spring and early summer. Its exceptionally long flowering season and its ability to grow almost anywhere add to its value. The flowers open only in sunshine and this protects the nectar and pollen from damage by rain or frost. In favourable seasons a little surplus dandelion honey is stored and is easily identified by its very deep yellow wax capping, says the Federation of Irish Beekeepers’ Association’s website.
And of course, dandelions also provide food for adventurous humans who like to forage. Their leaves are edible and can be used in salads while the roots can be dried and crushed to make a tea, which is said to act as a natural diuretic.
And if you like a tipple why not try your hand at making dandelion wine!
So, hold off on grabbing your shovel, or worse still, weedkiller, and let those dandelions flourish, if only for a little while, and welcome pollinators into the garden.
If you want to learn more about Ireland’s pollinators and the All-Ireland battle to save them then just click here.