Saturday, 27 October 2018

Dandelion Clocks

Ever one to avoid the obvious, I thought I'd blog about dandelions - and their  clocks  - on this last day of British Summer Time. Yes, we need to reset our timepieces overnight back to GMT; (and it's also the end of European Summer Time, lest we forget our alignment to the continent). The north wind has begun to blow and we're already seeing snow in the UK for the first time since the beastly tail-end of February, but at least it has been a gloriously sunny (if bracingly cold) day in the jewel of the north - and we get an extra hour in bed tonight.

I suppose the dandelion might be regarded as the marmite of the plant world, loved by many for its colour and culinary properties, loathed by as many others for being the bane of lawns and flowerbeds. I personally think dandelions are a good thing, so this will be a bit of a PR exercise on their behalf. Let's start with a few interesting facts; (you know the Saturday blog is usually good for a fact or two)...

Beautiful Dandelion Clock
Dandelions are tap-rooted, flowering herbaceous perennials, genus Taraxacum. Their name is derived from the shape of the leaves (jagged like a lion's teeth), first from the Greek (leontodon), then Latin (dens leonis), via Middle French (dents de lion) and so to English. Interestingly the modern French word for the plant is pissenlit (literally bed-wetter), derived from the plant's medicinal property as a diuretic.

The dandelion has been common to Europe and Asia for millennia but was only introduced to the New World in the 17th century when the emigrees on the Mayflower took it to North America for its culinary and medicinal uses.

It looks spectacular in flower (in the right places), a carpet of gold in spring and summer; it also looks amazing when seeding. I once bought my father, who collected paperweights, a dandelion clock trapped in glass. It's a beautiful thing. The artefact reverted to me when he died and sits on a windowsill where it catches the light to best effect.

Fresh dandelion leaves go nicely in a green salad (and guinea-pigs love them); various plant extracts are used to make dandelion wine or root beer (anyone remember Dandelion & Burdock?); its ground dried roots have acted as a coffee substitute in times of war and deprivation.

As a herbal remedy it has been used since ancient times as a treatment for kidney and urinary infections.

More recently it has been found that the milky substance within its hollow stem (surely everyone has seen and felt the stuff on their fingers) is a latex sap and might be an alternative source of rubber in future. Dandelion latex has been given the name taraxagum (a play on its scientific name).

What a versatile and valuable plant, I hope you agree. Just writing this has got me longing for its return in the spring! In the meantime, I have a paperweight to enjoy.

How many of you as kids used to pick dandelion clocks (also known colloquially as 'blowballs') and puff away at them? We were told by our elders that you could tell the time by how many puffs it took to blow all the seeds off the head of the stalk. It was always good fun. I've no idea why or how long ago that piece of folklore originated but it has certainly worked wonders for the propagation of the dandelion down the centuries. I passed the habit on to my own children, the eldest of whom had a shock of sticking up silky hair remarkably like a dandelion's seed-head when she was a baby (see above).

Today's poem takes as its jumping-off point that age-old children's game of blowing the dandelion clock.

What Time Is It?
Grip the stalk with sticky fingers,
take a breath and concentrate,
blue eyes a-wonder.

The first puff blasts a quadrant
of filaments parachuting on the breeze
to pastures new. Well done - one o'clock.

As many hie with the second puff,
half the fluff of the blowball plundered
and gone to ground - two o'clock.

The next huff expires with a hint
of a wheeze but a good third
of the seed-head stands - three o'clock.

A final determined puffed-cheek blow
dispatches all but a single seed.
Good enough, goldilocks,

aglow with a winning smile,
dandelion out-roared - four o'clock
... and time for that inhaler.

Okay, that's it. Time's up. Thanks for reading, S ;-)


Pam Winning said...

I like dandelions. Now I know where the bed-wetting connection comes from. Fab blog :-)

Anonymous said...

Great blog Steve.

Anonymous said...

Most interesting.

TdM said...

An informative blog and a cute poem. Thank you much.

Matt West said...

Class buddy

Anonymous said...

No, sorry - weeds. (The constant gardener)

Anonymous said...

As you hoped, instructive and entertaining. I remember blowing dandelion clocks in our garden - it used to make my Dad very cross! I enjoyed the latest poem as well. Thank you Steve.

Anonymous said...

Another beautifully written (and illustrated!) blog. Thanks for sharing.

Heather said...

Enjoyed reading this and what a lovely poem. What talent.

Anonymous said...

A lovely blog.

Anonymous said...

Intrigued to see a photo of a young Mr R (and even younger Miss R). What a well-written blog and great poem. Thanks Steve.

Anonymous said...

This was fun. Count me in from now on as a dandelion-lover.

MoonGoddess said...

Definitely a good thing! Bright and cheering for us - attractive to bees and other pollinating insects. Thanks!