Thursday, February 19, 2015

Taraxacum, the ubiquitous dandelion

Common housefly, Musca domestica
 During a brief walk through the yard on a sunny afternoon, I was amazed to see such a variety of floral visitors on the Taraxacum, or dandelion. This weed is synonymous with my "lawn" this time of year (later in the year, it's hawkweed, Hieracium sp.) Dandelions aren't that bad. The roots go deep bringing up nutrients not available to shallow rooted plants, and they encourage the presence of earthworms.

Even though the individual flower density was low, plants scattered here and there a distance apart, they had great appeal to a variety of insects. Unfortunately, the full sun made taking pictures difficult. The reflected light tends towards overexposure, with the yellows turning to a vague white. A bit of shade or cloud cover is best for photography on sunny days. Please open the images to get a closer look.

Hoverfly, family Syrphidae
Flies were second to bees in abundance. They visit the flowers mostly for pollen, I suspect because the nectar is deeper than they could reach. Some flies, like the housefly, may be interested in a floral oil or fragrance.

Small solitary bee
Tiny solitary bees, like this one, were on many of the flowers, but could easily be mistook for flies. When you watch bees, flies, and wasps enough, you can tell them apart by behavior and movements alone, even at a distance.


Spotted cucumber beetly, Diabrotica undecimpunctata
Cucumber beetles, sometimes agricultural pests, are benign in my garden. They are common visitors to a variety of flowers, quite often those in the Asteraceae, or sunflower family. There is a high level of biodiversity in my garden, and an absence of a monocrop (like an acre of corn), so any damage they do is negligible, and they are kept in check.


Solitary bee
Saving the best for last, I was able to get very close to this small bee without scaring it away. It was foraging for nectar, but was subsequently coated in pollen. It is fun to see bees "at work" on a flower.

They are one of the only types of insects that cause no harm (usually) to their food source, but instead benefit the plants and are an important part of most plants survival. And then take into account the animals that require those plants to survive, and so on. Bees are quite literally at the bottom of this chain, but their importance is at the top if their impact on the natural world is considered.


My point? Try not to let a few dandelion's ruin your day. Instead imagine that they are encouraging biodiversity in your yard or garden. If you're feeling adventurous, try using the fresh leaves or flowers in salad or chopping and roasting the root to make an herbal coffee substitute. They are also good for the compost pile. Or, you can just leave them where they are like I do to be available to early pollinators. Let them feast.

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