Hominy & Hash
OBITUARY FOR THE DANDELION
by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- Oh, the dandelion is not really dead in spite of this obituary. Yet, all over the country these spring days, homeowners are slapping their hands together and saying, "Well, that's that." They feel they can rest easily now having followed the instructions of the Home Owners Association's hints on weed removal (couched in words suggesting the HOA might just shun a neighbor who doesn't comply.)
It would be far too formidable a task to resurrect the dandelion from the lowly position it holds in the pecking order of all living things The only acknowledgement it gets is being listed in a classification -- and the classification is: weeds.
Weeds are what they are and what they are to you depends more upon who you are than what the weed is. For instance, a philosophical definition of a weed is: "A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered." I like that. The popular notion is that it is a plant out of place.
That place just might be the middle of your unspoiled, untouched, lawn, free of dandelions or clover, four leaf or otherwise.
This disdain for dandelions began after World War II when the American Dream began its reality. You had a man, you had a woman, you had a neat little single family house with a yard surrounded by a white picket fence. And, of course, you had the Joneses.
However, you didn't have to struggle to keep up with these Joneses; no, they were just like you. This era is known as the suburbanization of America! Your son and your neighbors' sons had little blue tricycles. You all had basketball hoops over the single car garages. The dream was fulfilled.
What next? Well, the lawn was next. And so began the obsession Americans share with grass and how to grow it, how to keep it manicured, how to keep it watered; it‘s a full time job. There are dozens of varieties of this plant but basically all are green. Those little blades of grass are not as strong as those plants that flourish without care, those vigorous weeds. No problem, weeds can be dug up, or poisoned, or smothered.
A challenge? Yes. But these young suburbanites were up to it and filled their peg-boarded garage walls with the equipment necessary to meet the challenge.
But, did they? In a review of Virginia Scott Jenkins‘ book, "The Lawn," Smithsonian Institution Press, I learned that a lawn is not only an obsession, it's an American invention. "Common space. Private space," is the story in a nutshell.
I spent some time in Phoenix where residents settling there are usually smart enough to realize they're living in a desert. It's a barren region of earth filled with sand. Grass doesn't grow in sand but those moving in from Michigan or Connecticut often import a lawn, an honest-to-God, lawn, turf square by turf square.
These homesick transplants spend their time watering it while the really smart neighbors next door have gravel and stone yards gleaming in the scorching sunlight. "You need that great Kentucky soil to grow Kentucky Blue Grass," they say with authority. Well, duh.
The movement has grown so that my children will never know the thrill of a child tapping on the back door, smiling sheepishly, then bursting into a broad grin and raising a tiny bouquet of dandelions for Mommy. Oh, the joy!
Children only see the beauty underfoot as they reach down and pluck it, and then another one, and then another. There they are, for the taking. Free, no one said not to pick them. Of course they can't pick the tulips or the daffodils but the dandelions are there and theirs for the taking.
Who determines value? For instance, the poinsettia is the most popular potted plant sold in the United States each year and, at the same time, is extremely toxic. In spite of popularity, one leaf, red or green, could kill a small baby. If an infant reaches for the attractive leaf and grasps it and puts it to his mouth as every drooling baby would, it is deadly. While the dandelion, the poor little neglected dandelion, is "weeded" out of the yard to the tune of grumbles that it had the nerve to bloom at all.
The dandelion from the beginning of time has been used in powerful medicines. And, also, let's not forget gourmet salads and dandelion wine. This is a valuable plant, ours to recognize, ours to have, outs to appreciate; but, we won't. It's too late, unless it proves to be a cure for cancer. (There are positive results from a Japanese study and another study in the United States finds that dandelions produce antibodies .)
They grow anywhere; any patch of soil, big or small; they squeeze up between cracks on the sidewalks of New York, they cling to the sides of rain gutters and in the corners of window boxes designed to be full of geraniums.
They're my kind of flower, opening up at daybreak and closing at nightfall. It's not very glamorous but then, neither am I. I first took them to my mother when I was four and my children brought them to me when they were that age. The love that went from hands to hands far exceeds any love I've received tucked into the fancy white boxes carrying long stemmed roses clothed in crisp green tissue paper.
When a beautiful dandelion closes up, its slender yellow petals wither and a little puffer ball takes its place. Oh, the delight! as children to hold it up to their pursed lips and blow. What is fun for them is really the scattering of seeds for the next year's crop of the golden dandelions. That's too far ahead for the little ones to envision, but I know exactly what is happening.
I know the stalwart dandelion is not ready for the archives of plants that once grew on earth; no, the dandelion is thriving and every puffer ball that's blown across every yard by wind, chance, or childhood frivolity acknowledges the continuing existence of a plant that can't be killed.
This battle between American male and the lowly dandelion continues until man is underground and the dandelions bloom above. One euphemism for dead is "pushing up daisies," as if a daisy is higher class. God forbid they should push up dandelions!