The Editor’s Desk: All hail the Lion’s Tooth

Never heard of this wonder plant? Once you have, you'll want to buy it by the dozen (but you can't)

Ah, the sounds of late spring! Lawnmowers are thrumming, sprinklers are splashing, kids are playing, crickets are chirping, hummingbirds are humming, and chukkars are … chucking. Desert Hills and Horsting’s are bustling with visitors, among them gardeners eager to get growing.

I’m not a gardener, but I recently had occasion to leaf through a catalogue of various plants and garden accessories (if I’m away from home and trying to pass some time I’ll read just about anything that’s handy, up to and including car manuals). As I flipped through the pages of the catalogue I had to chuckle as I came across the phrase “deer-resistant” applied to some of the plants.

I remember mentioning deer-resistant plants to Frank Ritcey, the former WildSafeBC coordinator, during the course of an interview where we touched on urban deer. As soon as I uttered the phrase Frank laughed heartily. “There’s no such thing as ‘deer resistant’ when it comes to plants,” he said frankly (no pun intended). “There are some plants that deer like less than others, but if they’re the only thing available, deer will eat them.”

The catalogue really did make fascinating reading. Every gadget and accessory was described in such a way that made it sound well-nigh indispensable to anyone who was even thinking about gardening, while the plants were all painted in such glowing colours that it seemed all one had to do was pop them in some dirt, stand back, and wait for the cascade of colour or plethora of produce that would immediately occur.

One flower that was conspicuously absent was one of my personal favourites, and one that does very—indeed, amazingly—well here. With nothing better to do than glance at my watch and wonder how much longer I had to wait, I began writing in my head a description of said plant as it might appear in such a catalogue.

“Tired of the winter blahs? Fed up with waiting until the threat of frost is over before filling your beds with colour? Bring an early ray of sunshine to your garden with the cheerful Lion’s Tooth (Taraxacum erythrospermum)! This hardy flower thrives in all soil types, needs little water, and does equally well in full sun, part shade, and full shade, meaning there are no limits to where you can use it!

“Plant them early in the spring to brighten up those barren beds; the Lion’s Tooth blossoms where other flowers fear to tread! The bright-yellow blooms are a magnet for bumblebees, making them a valuable source of pollination, and they close up at night, but open in the first rays of the sun, ready to greet you each morning.

“By the time you’re ready to start your summer planting the Lion’s Tooth’s day is nearly done, but almost every part of the plant is edible. From flower to root, the Lion’s Tooth is chock-full of vitamins, minerals, and fibre. Turn it into tea or wine, eat the greens raw or cooked, and try frying the flowers in batter for delicious fritters! It’s a powerhouse plant if ever there was one, and you’ll be able to enjoy it long after it has faded from your garden!”

I don’t know about you, but I suspect that if the Lion’s Tooth—with its wonderful properties, all of which are 100 per cent true—was described thusly and sold in flats of six at a garden centre they would be flying off the shelves. Alas; Taraxacum erythrospermum is better known as the dandelion, and as such is waged war on by gardeners and homeowners everywhere for having the temerity to grow haphazardly in lawns rather than in orderly rows in a garden.

Ah well; as Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple once noted, weeds are just flowers that grow where you don’t want them to. I shall continue to enjoy the mighty Lion’s Tooth for the short time it’s here, admiring its hardiness, tenacity, and the splash of colour it brings to my yard. Just don’t ask me to try dandelion fritters: that’s a step I’m not yet prepared to take.

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