The name dandelion comes from the French “dent de lion”, meaning lion’s tooth, which references the toothed edges of the leaves. In flower, it’s a plant that is so common, we scarcely notice it, apart from to designate to weed status when in our way. Yet when it turns to seed, it is appreciated much more: Not only do we have names for it in this state such as puff-ball and blow-ball, which is not the case for other plants, but we have also romanticised it, with people telling the time with it, wishing on it, or believing that the the number of puffs it takes to remove it all from the stalk, will denote the number of years of freedom until our wedding day. The round balls of silver tufted fruits that disperse in the wind are called cypselae and the bits which form the parachutes are known botanically as pappi. Taraxacum officinale is from the plant family Asteracease, and although it is native to Eurasia, it now grows all over the temperate world. It’s a plant that has inspired, and continues to inspire artists, perhaps because of its rare combination of fragility, yet ubiquitous strength.
Blowball II, M.C. Escher, 1943
William Henry Fox Talbot’s engraving of dandelion seeds (1852-7).
Ottoman textile Velvet Panel 17th Century, c/0 Brooklyn Museum
Potted Dandelion Plant, Crystal Pot by Peter Carl Faberge, 1870-1920
From Elizabeth Blackwell’s flora Herbarium, 1757
Dandelion I by Angie Lewin (Wood engraving)
Regine Ramseier’s 2,000 dandelions installation at the ArToll Summer Lab 2011
Dandelions, Jean-Francois Millet, c.1867-1868
Dandelions, Vincent van Gogh, 1889/90