“We better cut the grass,” my wife said with a concerned voice, “We’re going to get cited by the city for all those dandelions!” Generally, when my wife says “we” what she means is, “me”.
I wasn’t being defiant or lazy. It had been raining for forty days and forty nights—or at least it felt that way. I was drawing up plans to build an ark.
Although my yard was completely saturated, the dandelions stood triumphantly as if to proclaim, “We will survive.” And indeed, they do.
Every year I vehemently mow them down, but in Arnold-like-terminator fashion, I hear them mocking me saying “I’ll be back.” And, about a half-hour later, they proclaim, “We’re back.”
Have you ever wondered who was the first one to cut their grass and say, “Hey, that looks nice?” As it turns out, a well-manicured lawn can be traced back to European aristocracy. They kept the land around their castles clear of trees so the soldiers could easily spot potential intruders. In fact, the word lawn comes from the Middle English word launde, which meant a “glade or opening in the woods.”
By the late 17th century, closely-cut grass lawns began to appear on the grounds of the wealthy, and the idea caught on. I’m guessing their name was Jones, as we’ve been trying to keep up with the Jones’s ever since.
Playfully, I wanted to argue with my wife that a well-manicured lawn may not be good for the environment. According to a 2015 Washington Post article by Sarah Baker, a well-manicured lawn undermines a natural ecosystem. Baker says, if we don’t cut our grass, we can attract all sorts of wildlife.
My wife was not excited about the thought of rodents and reptiles joining our family. I assured her that the abundance of snakes would also attract hawks to control their overpopulation. She was not impressed or amused.
I’m not the last guy to cut the grass in the neighborhood, but I’m not the trailblazer either who wipes the snow off the mower and gets after it. As much as I appreciate the wonderful temperatures and lush vegetation that spring reveals, there is a sense of dread and angst when I hear the first lawnmower go off in the neighborhood.
For me, lawn maintenance is more of a nuisance than an opportunity to showcase my outdoor, artistic qualities. Making ice sculptures with a chainsaw sounds much more exciting.
Dandelions were on my mind as I drove through our neighborhood in the drizzling rain. I noticed that many of my neighbors also struggled with their dandelions! Secretly, I was ecstatic to know I was not alone.
In fact, there were several neighbors more worthy of a dandelion citation than me. I didn’t judge them. I felt their pain.
I decided to see what the lawn ordinance was in Grain Valley. According to the City of Grain Valley website, weeds, grass, and brush can be considered worthy of a citation. Under Section 225.050—Weeds, it says, “Growth of weeds or grass to a height of ten (10) inches or higher shall be deemed guilty of a public nuisance.”
I have about 4 tape measures lying around in drawers in the house, but thought it would be kind of weird, if not overly rebellious, to be outside measuring dandelions in the rain.
Plus, I might have another angle. I wondered if dandelions were actually weeds or plants that flower. I hoped for the latter. In the “search box” on the ordinances page I put in “dandelion”. Nothing. There are hundreds of pages, but not one word on dandelions. “Hmmm,” I thought, “maybe that’s my out.”
I’m not a rebel, but for a fleeting moment, I imagined myself on one of the major news networks with the caption, “Local pastor incarcerated over 11-inch dandelions is victoriously freed as court rules it’s not a vicious weed.”
Dandelions, as it turns out, are not a weed and are not listed on the USDA’s Federal Noxious Weed List. The scientific name is taraxacum officinale. The more-recognized name, dandelion comes from the French and means “lion’s tooth” which refers to the toothy-type leaves.
The flowers are important to bees, providing nectar and pollen. In addition, they are also eaten by some birds and are beneficial to the soil adding minerals and nitrogen.
I decided to settle this with an unscientific poll with friends and fellow residents of Grain Valley. Although the topic of dandelions is not as popular as the citywide garage sale, there seemed to be some interest.
At the close of the poll, 62% of respondents thought dandelions were a “beautiful part of nature” as opposed to 38% who thought they were “annoying and ugly”.
Some great comments came in too! Most of the comments were positive, as people loved their beauty and fact that they are good for the bees.
They’re even fun to blow the seeds and make a wish. Some of the seeds can travel up to five miles (of course, that’s probably someone else’s yard).
On the negative side, allergies were a concern and the fact that they seem to take over everything. The pesky plants are prodigious and all it takes is one in your neighbor’s yard and next thing you know—well, you know—they’re everywhere.
They are also extremely annoying to farmers, gardeners, serious lawn aficionados, and those trying to keep up with the Jones’s.
Thankfully, there are many ways to get rid of dandelions. Digging them up is tough considering their taproot can be up to 10 inches long. Herbicide is the most popular, but not good for the environment. Some people actually eat them.
In a 2018 article by Ansley Hill in Healthline Magazine, she lists thirteen health benefits of dandelions suggesting that they are loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and essential minerals. I did notice that all of Hill’s thirteen health benefits started with the phrase, “may help…” and she concluded the article with jargon about insufficient data and little testing on humans.
I remember, years ago, a coworker bringing in dandelion jelly and saying her grandmother makes it. She said she had tried it before and, “It wasn’t bad.” “Wasn’t bad” is not a good motivation for me to try anything. I prefer strawberry jelly anyway.
Everything eventually comes to an end—including the rain. And, of course, although the rodents and reptiles won’t be happy, I’ll get out there and take care of the dandelions. Even the ones under 10 inches.
Perhaps someone else can carry the dandelion mantle. I do see a potential, future entrepreneurship on the horizon. Perhaps, a small business making dandelion jelly would be in order. I hear it’s not half bad. I would recommend the name, “Grain Valley Greens” or “Valley Dandi-Dallys”. Who knows, maybe they’d even sell them at the communitywide garage sale.
Wayne Geiger is the Pastor of First Baptist Church Grain Valley, an Adjunct Associate Professor of Speech at Johnson Country Community College, and a freelance writer.