Dandelion, Common
Name: Dandelion, Common

Botanical Name: Taraxacum officinale

Form: wildflower

Parts Used: seeds, greens and flowers

Getting Started
Dandelion is a highly useful green and seed to collect for the rehabber pantry. In part, this is due to the fact that most people can easily recognize dandelions and that they are accessible almost everywhere. Also, dandelion is highly nutritious.

Dandelions can be found in bloom, scattered here and there throughout the growing season. But if you want to collect a lot of seed and flower head all at once, look for that first large spring bloom before the first grass mowing of the season. I collect all my seed for the year right in that first, most substantial crop.

Seeds, greens and flowers are all utilized by wildlife. Greens are 11th in popularity on our Great Greens list, while seeds are 33rd in usage compared to other seed. But more than any other flower, dandelion flower petals are eaten by 12 known species of mostly birds. Also, the seeds are very easy to collect and process for birdseed.

We have two species in our area. Here’s the taxonomy:

Asteraceae (Aster family)

Cichoriodeae (Chicory/Dandelion subfamily)

Taraxacum (Dandelion genus)


Key Features to look for
In addition to the identification guide of your choice, you should see all these features on dandelion to help you rule out look-alikes, of which there are a few:

Leaves are always in a rosette on the ground—no leaves come out of the stems
Leaf rib (back of leaf center axis) is generally hairless (but there could be a white wooly-looking bit)
Only one yellow flower between the size of a quarter and a fifty cent piece per plant
Hollow stem
Flower “petals” are squared off, not pointed at the tips
The leaf’s central axis in cross-section is rounded, no edge to it
Usually one single, main tap root
Reddish at the bottom of the leaf stem

None indicated.

About this Species
Most everyone knows dandelion flowers. But identification solely off the leaf with no flower present can be more difficult. Dandelions do have look-alikes that can be difficult to distinguish, like Cat’s Ear and Hawkweeds, but thankfully none of the look-alikes are poisonous, so if you inadvertently harvest one it shouldn’t be a problem.[Note: Cat’s Ear Hypochaeris can lead to a condition called stringhalt in horses].

Read on to the bottom for some example of look-alikes. To differentiate dandelion look-alikes by leaf and stem only, see a wonderfully helpful key written by expert forager Samuel Thayer under the leaf section of this monograph.

Flower Description
The “petals” of the flower (which are actually ray flowers) have squared off tips that resemble a rectangle end, rather than a tapered pointed end. Sometimes this shape is referred to as a “strap”. The stalk or stem (peduncle) below the flower rises from a rosette of leaves at ground level. The green bracts underneath the sepals and flower head fold downward (recurved) like a jester’s collar. The bright yellow flowers are between the size of a quarter and a fifty cent piece.

Leaf Description
Dandelion is named after the “tooth of the lion” because of the pointy, tooth-looking lobes along the leaf. Young leaves are rounder with less jagged teeth, older leaves are very jagged with deep indentations—that difference in contour related to age can lead to confusion. The leaf stalk is hollow and exudes a milky white latex when torn. Leaves grow from the base of the stem at the ground in a rosette. Often the stem is smooth and has tinges of red in it.

To identify dandelion by leaf and stem ONLY, Samuel Thayer wrote the following key that differentiates four different plant greens that can be offered to wildlife patients, cat’s ear (Hypochareis radicata), wild lettuce ( Lactuca spp.), field sow thistle (Sonchus arvenis) and dandelion (Taraxacum spp.). Also, chickory (Cichorium spp.) which is eaten as seed.

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Dandelion, Common
Name: Dandelion, Common

Botanical Name: Taraxacum officinale

Form: wildflower

Parts Used: seeds, greens, roots and flowers


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