Kew’s dandelions died. Really?
November 07, 2021
* This blog post is about the different types of dandelion.
What do you mean, different types of dandelion? There’s more than one? You mean that there are red ones and blue ones?
* No, but there are two hundred and thirty nine different dandelion species in Britain alone - even if they do all have yellow flowers.
That’s ridiculous, they all look the same to me.
* That’s because you’re an ignorant buffoon. If you were the legendary dandelion expert Dr John Richards, it would be clear that there really are almost two hundred and fifty species.
How do we know this?
* He has a new book out, it’s called the Field Handbook to British and Irish Dandelions and it covers every single native species.
But they all look the same! Or most of them, anyway.
* That’s true, up to a point. But Dr Richards tells us that digital photography has revolutionised dandelion studies by easily revealing colours and forms not clearly visible in the traditional pressed and dried specimens used by botanists.
John Richards, the name rings a bell…
* Yes, he also wrote The Genus Primula, his uniquely comprehensive botanical monograph on one of our most popular plants. So his interests neatly combine the loved and the despised. He also discovered the black-leaved ‘Ravenswing’ cow parsley.
But if all British dandelions are yellow, what are the pink and white ones in the pictures here?
* When I worked at Kew, long ago, we grew a white-flowered dandelion called Taraxacum mongolicum. No one believed that we had a white one, so we had to take people over to inspect the plants. Until they died.
Hah! Kew couldn’t even grow a dandelion.
* Hmmm… But moving right along… The white one here is the Korean dandelion, T. coreanum, with grey green leaves and these beautiful white flowers. The honey and pink one, below, is T. pseudoroseum, from Central Asia. The one with the beetroot-coloured leaves, at the top, is T. faroense.
Have to day, they’re quite pretty. But no one would be mad enough to try to sell seeds. Gardeners would never stand for it.
* On the contrary, Growild Nursery in Ayrshire, in south west Scotland, sell seed of all three – plus three more. And they offered two species as plants this year and sold out. People really like unusual dandelions.
Growild? It sounds as if the whole place is covered in weeds.
* Not at all. It’s just that they prefer to offer wild species rather than fancy hybrid cultivars and they specialise in growing rare and unusual species, in particular hardy perennials, from Japan, China and the Himalayas. They’re clearly highly principled, and say that “no peat-based products are used in the nursery. Neither chemicals nor animal derived products are used on our plants and only seaweed fertilizer is used.”
You know, Growild Nursery sounds alright. And those pink and white dandelions sure look pretty.
* Well, you can check their seeds and plants on the Growild website at https://www.growildnursery.co.uk/.
Not sure I need a three hundred page book on British dandelions, though.
* If you change your mind, the Field Handbook to British and Irish Dandelions by A. J. Richards is available from NHBS, the Natural History Book Service.
And find out more about dandelions here.
Images ©Growild Nursery. Thank you.