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School Watch


Caisearbhán/Bearnán Bríde (Irish name)

Taraxacum officinale (Latin name)

The dandelion is one of our most common "weeds". But what exactly is a "weed"? Put simply, a weed is an unwanted plant, one that is growing in the wrong place. Unfortunately, if it is growing in your garden it is very difficult to get rid of. It has a deep tap root that is very brittle and unless you remove it completely the plant will regenerate itself.

The dandelion is the one plant that probably everyone in Ireland knows and the one that has many common or local names.

The name dandelion is a corruption of the French words dent de lion or 'lions tooth'. If you look carefully at the shape of the leaves you can see the resemblance. The other French name for this plant is pis-en-lit (in English this means wet the bed)

Clocks, wet-the-bed or piss-in-the-bed are some of the familiar names given to this plant. But why so? The name 'clocks' arises from countless generations of children playing 'clocks' with the seeds of the plant - whatever number of puffs that were needed to remove all the seeds was the time on the clock - 6 puffs means 6 O'Clock.

The name piss-in-the-bed or wet-the-bed are well chosen for this plant. Dandelion leaves contain a natural diuretic that increases urine production in the kidney, so if you eat dandelions it will help stimulate increased urine production in the body.

The stem of the plant is hollow and when broken a sticky white bitter sap will ooze out. Traditionally, this sap has been applied to warts to try to remove them. Long ago the sap was taken in milk as a Spring tonic and was known as Bainne na n-Éan

The dandelion provides an important food source for bees. The pollen from this plant helps bees out in Spring because it flowers early providing an early source of food. The flower of the dandelion is a brilliant yellow colour and they can be seen in March and April. These flowers are sensitive to light, so they open with the sun in the morning and close in the evening or during gloomy weather. Dandelion flowers have long been used to make wine.

When pollinated, the fluffy seed head appears. These are often called "Jinny-Joes" or "Jimmy-Joes". In effect, they are really like small parachutes with the tiny seed at the base. These seeds are easily scattered by the wind to provide the next generation of dandelions.

The dandelion is one plant I really like to see come into flower, for two reasons. Firstly, it is a sure sign that Spring has arrived and secondly, the flower heads are considered a delicacy by our pet guinea pigs. At this time of year we collect as many flower heads as possible and watch in delight as our furry friends tuck into them. And dandelions are a rich source of vitamins. So if you have guinea pigs or rabbits, now is the time to treat them to a feast of dandelions.

1. What is a weed?

2. What colour is the dandelion flower?

3. At what time of the year do dandelion flowers appear?

4. What is the French name for dandelions?

5. What are Jinny-Joes?

6. What part of the dandelion plant is used to make wine?

7. What is a diuretic?

8. How are dandelion seeds dispersed?

9. What does pis-en-lit mean?

10. In what part of the body is urine produced?



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