Dandelion more than a pest, a delight of God’s goodness

COMMON DANDELION Taraxacum officinale

COMMON DANDELION
Taraxacum officinale

By Orrin Morris

In Psalm 65:12, the Psalmist rejoices in the beauty of the natural world God has provided. We can easily apply his words to the beauty we anticipate each year in the coming of spring.

The grasslands of the desert overflow; the hills are clothed with gladness.”

One of the harbingers of spring is the common dandelion. Once they start blooming, they are like medallions of sun shining about us. In fact, this season I saw several clusters in bloom.

Eight different names are used for dandelion, depending on the region or culture group you visit. These common names include blowball, cankerwort, lion’s tooth (after the shape of the leaves, which is the meaning of the common name), priest’s crown, swine snout, and wild endive.

Most children view the dandelion as a yellow delight of the natural world, spreading its joyous sunshine. We adults call it a pest because we want uniform grassy lawns. Of course, we adults overrule the children’s delight and the battle to eradicate the dandelion never ends.

Dandelions have a very long blooming season in the South. During a mild winter they may bloom all year. The long tap root must be completely dug up before a plant can be successfully eradicated naturally, otherwise a broadleaf herbicide must be applied.

Dandelions are widely distributed. They have been documented in every state and territory of the United States and Canada. They are in the Yukon, above the arctic circle.

Besides the effects of severe drought on the plant population, dandelions are also adversely affected by soils permeated with salt water and dense shade, as in hardwood forests with heavy undergrowth.

We should be grateful that dandelions are not the pest here that they are up North. As a kid growing up in Omaha, I learned there was a strict code of conduct regarding dandelions.  Mother would scold me if I picked a fluff-ball and blew on it to see the “parachutes” float in the wind.  People who were known as good neighbors taught their children better manners than that. Of course kids will be kids.

As a very young child, my baby-sitter introduced me to dandelions with the promise that if I let her show me a trick I would “get some butter.” In my mind that meant the greasy yellow stuff I put on toast for breakfast. That was not the case. It was a trick. She picked a bloom and rubbed it on my chin. The yellow pollen stuck to my chin like rouge.

During cold weather, the stem holding the bloom is very short. Those I saw earlier this spring were flush with the ground. In hot weather, the soft greenish-white stem may rise 6 inches.

The plant has been useful in spite of its pesky reputation. The young leaves can be picked and boiled as one of the “greens.” Its leaves, before the flowers form, have been squeezed into milk and warmed for a spring tonic. In the fall, the root has been steeped in boiling water as a tea.  Just another sign that, even when inconvenient, the many things God provides is something to behold.

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White Horsemint: A Thing of God’s Beauty

WHITE HORSEMINT Pycnanthemum incanum

WHITE HORSEMINT
Pycnanthemum incanum

By Orrin Morris

While teaching one summer at a seminary in the San Francisco area, I visited the Humboldt Redwood State Park.  I was dwarfed by the size of those magnificent trees.  The Scripture verses for today come from Psalms 91:1-2:

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust.’

Unlike Redwoods, today’s wildflower, white horsemint, is easily overlooked.  You must travel to the edge of the woods to find it; and, on my property, it blooms in late summer in the shadows of our 60- to 80-foot oaks and hickories.  Even the smallest of plants, however, can communicate God’s magnificent, towering beauty.

As an artist, I’ve always enjoyed the beautiful colors, the fascinating textures and the delicate details of the smallest to the largest wildflower.  The white horsemint from afar looks like a weed whose top leaves have been bleached white by the sun, but a closer look reveals there is wonder in the details.

This wildflower bears its blooms on a plant that stands 3 to 5 feet tall and is easily identified by the whitish-green leaves surrounding the blossoms at the uppermost part of the branches. The stem is square, a common feature of the mint family.

When you get close and examine the blossoms you discover it is not just one bloom but many small flowers in a cluster.  The individual flower is less than 1/4 inch wide and about 3/4 inch tall. It is shaped like the bell of a trombone but stretched so the top of the bell juts upward and the bottom into a three-part lobe.  Its color is light pink or white with purple spots randomly located about the corolla. You need a magnifying glass to see these details, especially the pistil and stamen.

White horsemint is found in dry areas of thin or open woods. It blooms from June to September on my property, though my resource books say that it blooms primarily in September to October.  When the leaves are crushed they give off a mint odor and can be used to flavor iced tea.

In October, the leaves drop, but atop the stems will be dried flowers in which tiny black seeds can be harvested for planting in rock gardens and natural areas.

Finally, may you find joy by following the counsel I teach my students, “Look — truly look — at the shapes, colors, and textures.”  Thus, you can begin to grasp the true beauty of God’s highly diverse creation and “abide in the shadow of the Almighty.”