- Family: Daisy Family – Compositae, subfamily Cichorioideae (formerly Chicory Family – Cichoriaceae)
- Growing form: Perennial herb. Taproot vertical, usually very strong.
- Height: 10–50 cm (4–20 in.). Often many-branched, stem unbranched, leafless, hollow, soft scape, containing abundantly milky latex.
- Flower: Single flower-like capitula approx. 2–3 cm (0.8–2-12 in.) broad, surrounded by involucral bracts. Capitulum flowers yellow (outermost often with grey or red streaks), tongue-like, tip 5-toothed. Stamens 5. Gynoecium composed of 2 fused carpels. Involucral bracts in 2 rows, inner bracts same length, erect, outer bracts shorter, usually spreading–descending. Capitulum solitary terminating scape.
- Leaves: In basal rosette, stalked–stalkless. Blade usually elliptic–narrowly obovate (sometimes linear), margin varyingly pinnate (sometimes almost entire).
- Fruit: Narrowly obovoid, granular, 3–6 mm (0.12–0.24 in.) long achene, crowned with unbranched hairs on end of long beak.
- Habitat: Often in areas of human activity such as meadows, banks and waste ground. Also on shores and wetlands.
- Flowering time: (April–)May–July. May flower late in autumn.
It is rare for a plant to be so common, well-known and vigorously hated as dandelion. Dandelions in Finland are known by the collective name Taraxacum officinale, but they should really be spoken about in plural form because they are so diverse, comprised of about 500 micro-species in Finland alone. This vast range of diversity is due to apomixis: the majority of plants multiply asexually, without pollination to help the seeds develop. This favours the preservation of even the smallest hereditary mutations and the result is a growing group of independent forms that deviate from each other in tiny ways.
Identifying dandelion is difficult and demands expertise. Even professional botanists rarely acquire such proficiency, and most are happy to regard dandelions as mere dandelions. Telling the micro-species apart means paying close attention to e.g. the position of the involucral bracts, the size of the capitula, the colour and breadth of the corolla and any absence of pollen. There are gaps in the data on Finland’s dandelions and several species have still not been scientifically described. Old aliens have disappeared, but new ones are found every year. The species can only be studied in the wild in the first 2–3 weeks of summer, its main flowering time. Most species flower only once in the summer and the rest change appearance according to the season. The amount of light, nutrition and other environmental factors also affect the way it looks.
Those who like to keep their gardens and lawns in good shape wouldn’t shed any tears for a few less dandelions. Waging war on dandelions, which have deep-reaching taproots and are easily fertilized, has often resulted in defeat. On the other hand, dandelions brighten up their environment with their shining yellow flowers, especially at the beginning of summer, and blowing the seeds from the clocks is a source of great fun later on for children, and adults who are young at heart. The leaves taste good to animals and are fit for the salad bowl too. The root has been roasted to make a coffee substitute and the capitula produce excellent cordials and wines. Dandelion has many medicinal uses.