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The Mast-Head: In Praise of Dandelions

Wed, 05/19/2021 - 18:47

The second round of dandelions has begun. Their bright yellow heads are close to the ground for the moment, as the seed puffs bob, waiting for a gust of wind.

Some years ago, Matthew Lester, a young man who was entranced by bees, got me and a lot of people thinking differently about dandelions. Bees, Mr. Lester would explain to anyone who would listen, early in the season depend on the flowers for a burst of energizing nectar. Let them grow, he said, and help the bees along.

His advice was especially important for what it said about us, too. Americans’ obsession with golf-green lawns has pushed to the margins the flowers on which flying pollinators, including bees, alight. A dandelion-loaded yard can indicate a willingness to adopt more earth-friendly practices, like abandoning weed killers and other chemical tricks.

Edwina von Gal, a horticulturist and landscape designer who lives in Springs, recently co-launched a program, 2/3 for the Birds, to encourage biodiversity at home. The goal was to help reverse a sharp decline in avian species in North America. The project’s website, 234birds.org, guides property owners and professionals toward environmentally beneficial practices, such as reducing the size of lawns and planting native grasses or wildflowers. These, too, will help Matthew Lester’s beloved bees.

Rakes and blowers are part of the problem, Ms. von Gal has said. Eggs of some moths and butterflies overwinter in leaf litter; removing leaves in the fall, rather than letting them hang around, has affected songbirds that feed their young on caterpillars in the spring and summer.

Dandelions are not perfect: As invaders from Europe they can crowd out other plants, but as a symbol of how we care about nature, they are unsurpassed.


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