Dandy Season

Dandelions make their grand appearance

A few weeks ago, I wrote that spring had arrived and pollen (plus a little nectar) was coming into the hives – mostly from willow and crocus. I also wrote that the main spring flow here in western Canada (along the Rocky Mountain foothills) is from the lowly dandelion, and it doesn’t reach peak bloom until around May 25th. After I posted those words, the weather turned startlingly warm (it set a record high) and masses of dandelions started to open three weeks early. So, I figured that I got my guess wrong (wouldn’t be the first time). Then it snowed. We had a week of cold weather. Now, finally, on May 25th, the dandelions are making their grand appearance.

In much of North America, the despised dandelion is the beekeeper’s best spring-time friend. Rather than sprinkling the lawn with Ortho® Weed-B-Gon MAX® Weed Killer For Lawns, the beekeeper is more likely to collect dandelion seeds and quietly spread them by helicopter at night. It’s a communing with nature sort of thing.

The battle between lovers and haters of dandelions got me wondering about when and how people got so uptight about their lawns. By people, I mean mostly northern Europeans and their cultural descendants in North America, Australia, and New Zealand. The rest of the world is a bit more relaxed about the state of their greens. For example, over the years, I have spent several months in central Europe. Flower baskets and public gardens are everywhere. But yards around family homes tend to be left a bit natural. A bit ragged. Grass may reach knees while dandelions and their associates live safe comfortable lives. It’s different further north – our word for lawn comes from an Old French word (launde) which means barrens or heath. A dead place – or at least a place of little vitality.

Somehow, keeping a barrens around the house has become a middle class pursuit among those of us lucky enough to be middle class members of the world’s wealthier nations. It messes with our minds when stray yellow dots break through the green monotony of the well-tended lawn. Meanwhile, many of us with the nicest yards and the snarkiest sneers for the untidy neighbour are also wondering what is happening to nature’s little pollinators. We bemoan the loss of butterflies and fuzzy bumbling bees, wishing they would drop by to enjoy our neatly manicured lawns. But they seem to be missing.


About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a bee ecologist working at the University of Calgary. He is also a geophysicist and does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and Earth scientist. (Ask him about seismic waves.) He's based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
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