Botany Lessons from the Front Lawn

A Common Lawn Weed Supports Lessons in Botany

Did you know that a dandelion flower is many flowers that make up a single head? Getting curious and paying attention to flowers that pop up during the spring and summer can help us become more mindful of the seasons, weather conditions, and plant species. Our front lawns, local meadows, and even cracks in the sidewalks can be a great place to start simple lessons in botany!

Keeping a journal to document observations, either in words, sketches, or photographs, can support awareness of seasonal patterns and how sunlight, insects, weather, and soil conditions can impact plants. Sharing your plant observations with citizen science projects, like Ohio State University youth-focused program, Dandelion Detectives integrates mindful observation with the scientific process of data collection.

In the spring, one flowering plant which can quickly spark curiosity and begin simple lessons in botany is the common dandelion. Easy to identify and loaded with teachings in not only botany, but also the culinary artshistory, and STEM, the dandelion is perfect for learning about a plant life cycle, the parts of the flower, and the processes of pollination and seed distribution.

Getting curious about the structure and function of the dandelion and exploring the entire plant from blossom to stem to taproot is a great place to begin. Compare and contrast a dissection of the dandelion flower with other plants that are flowering at the same time (i.e., daffodil, azalea, wild violets). Notice the differences in form, color, and patterns. Compare the levels of sunlight (full, partial, or shade) in which these different plant species grow, which insects are essential to their pollination and research to learn if they are an annual or perennial plant.  In this video, learn how to conduct a flower dissection and how to organize an exploration of flowering parts and functions.

Budburst, a national network of citizen scientists monitoring plants as the seasons change, is an online resource that supports simple lessons in botany too. Using your observations and growing interests via common dandelion, follow these steps to participate: Learn how to observe, Make an observation, and Report your observation.

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Spring Flowers Support STEM Learning

Geometry & Physics in a Dandelion Seed

The seed head of the common dandelion is anything but common. Within the shape and patterns of its seeds are lessons in geometry and physics. Close observations will reveal geometric patterns that can lead a curious mind to identify spiraling patterns known as the Fibonacci sequence. Looking closely and learning how the Fibonacci sequence and Golden Ratio are closely tied can spotlight a mathematical foundation found throughout nature. Learn the sequence and see where you can find it in other places, including pinecones, the shell of a snail, sunflowers, and of course, dandelion flowers and seed heads. The sequence order is 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144 and on to infinity.

Pick a dandelion with a full seed head and give it a puff. Notice how each seed and it’s attached pappus release and take flight. How is that dandelion seed carried through the air, floating across great distances over meadows and river beds? The answer is rooted in physics. In 2018, scientists from the University of Edinburgh discovered a traveling dandelion seed creates a vortex of air, which aids in its propulsion, a concept worthy of biomimicry in aerodynamic techniques. Learn about this discovery in this video and see if you can identify ways human innovation has been inspired by nature.

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Dent de Lion on the Dinner Plate

Baking & Brewing with Dandelions

For as long as human history has been recorded, the common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) has been used as food and medicine across the globe. While not native to this continent, this nutritious golden flowering plant arrived with the European colonization of the 1600’s and is now commonplace in lawns and meadows across North America. In the spring, the dandelion is one of several common wild edibles foragers look for to supplement their dinner plates. Grow Forage Cook Ferment has a helpful list, which includes, of course, DANDELIONS!

Looking through the lens of dandelions, interests in culinary arts, pastry arts, baking, and even home brewing can be supported. Within these interests, lessons in chemistry and math are implicit, while the art of taste and texture is an explicit driving force as highlighted in this video.

Learn how to identify and properly harvest dandelion leaves, flowers, and roots this year, and give them a go in your own kitchen too. Try a recipe for Dandelion Lemon Cupcakes to support an interest in pastry arts, or if you prefer baking, check out this recipe for Dandelion Leaf Bread. Or put on your chef hat and pair Dandelion Fritters with a Dandelion Leaf Salad to experiment with the textures and flavors found within the culinary arts.

If you’re interested in beverages, this Dandelion Root Coffee Recipe can set you up with a warm brew, or learn about the art of fermentation by making Dandelion Mead or Dandelion Fennel Kombucha! Read the rest of this entry »

Dandelion’s Place in History

World History and the Dandelion

Once respected around the world for its nutritional value and medicinal properties, today, the common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is seen by many as a noxious weed. Why? We have the rise of “lawn culture” to thank whose origin stems back to 17th century England where lawns were a status of wealth. Before this landscaping trend took root in the U.S., we might have seen dandelion varieties in seed catalogs and homegrown samples entered in the county fair during the 1800s.

But here we are 200 years later, and this delightful and tenacious little flower has been hexed by many as undesirable. And to add insult to injury, the cost of herbicides spent each year to kill this gift from nature is in the millions, impacting far more than just the dandelion.

Learning about history through the lens of the common dandelion can help us understand how our culture has gone from loving to hating (and hopefully back to loving) this flowering herbaceous perennial plant. This approach to history might tap into established or budding interests in nutrition, medicine, culinary arts, agriculture, social studies, ecology, and even mythology. Start your history lesson with this short video “Dandelions and Civilization: A Forgotten History” by The History Guy: History Deserves to Be Remembered. Read the rest of this entry »

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