Joco Diversions

A weed by any other name will still smell sweet

Perhaps it’s time to start appreciating the lowly dandelion. It’s edible, it’s fun and it smells sweet.
Perhaps it’s time to start appreciating the lowly dandelion. It’s edible, it’s fun and it smells sweet. Special to The Star

It’s funny how an old grainy photo can inspire unexpected nostalgia. Like an image of a backyard speckled with dandelions. Who swoons over dandelions? I do, apparently.

The picture reached me as many do lately. My brother found the little square print, clicked his iPhone above it, and then beamed it to me through the atmosphere.

Dandelions weren’t even the subject of the captured moment — it was the childhood dog we all adored — but somehow the “pesky” weeds snagged my mind and heart as well. Summertime. My old backyard. A goofy dog. And the fragrant interlopers popping up amongst the green blades.

I asked myself, “How did I even know these often shunned flowers emit a fragrance?”

Memory. As a child, one is not only closer to earth but curious about everything. Recently I plucked a dandelion to double-check. Ahh, yep. It seems adulthood makes us stop taking in the sweet scent of this ever present weed-flower.

And why did these little yellow blooms in the photo trip me up? The picture is so ordinary. There’s even somebody’s knee accidentally caught in the corner. Plus the colors are off. Time, ’70s cameras and Fotomat processing can distort the past.

But there was enough information for me to know exactly how the yard felt that day. I’m guessing it was the spring my dad’s work sent him to Alaska for an entire month, because the photo indicates a larger crop of sunburst petals than even his laissez faire personality would have tolerated. Back then he preferred organic gardening, as he does now. Yet he still had mild battles with dandelions. Suburban pressure can spread like, you know...

I remember my dad had a tool for manually removing weeds. It was like a flat screwdriver with a forked metal tongue. Sometimes I’d help him dig up the pretty/vexing flowers while he watered his tomatoes. I’d never get every bloom, but just enough to keep our family off the neighborhood scorn radar.

My dad would often mention in his thick French accent how folks from the old country tossed dandelion greens into salads. What! I didn’t quite believe him then because I never saw the jagged evidence in our own wooden bowls. But as an adult I know it’s true. How strange to learn now “dandelion” is rooted from his native language — dent-de-lion. Lion’s tooth, courtesy of the serrated leaves.

As a child, though, I found these flowers magical. They were there to wink at you, to signal summer was on the way. They’d pop up in clusters just at a time you needed to make an emergency bouquet for mom.

Flipping back to adulthood, I just learned this as well: These so-called weeds represent the sun, the moon and the stars with the bright flower, the round lunar puff and the airborne seeds floating in the sky.

And now that my dandelion awareness has been piqued, I have many more questions. I see most properties around my manicured, HOA-controlled suburbs do not claim even one little yellow flower. I note abundant, plush fescue carpets. Then occasionally, right next to a spotless green grid, I’ll spy a lawn that almost transports me back to that 1972 Kodak moment. An astounding contrast.

I assume the more common “perfection” is due to chemicals. Poison. That can’t be good. As I read up on the genus Taraxacum, I learn how beneficial they are, way beyond enriching Monsanto. Every part of this “weed” is useful for food, medicine and even dye.

What are we doing?

Lush green lawns are pretty, I suppose. I just wish we’d attain them in a kinder way. Like with the old fashioned weed tool or casual spritzes of vinegar. And maybe leave a little room for the cheerful yellow flowers.

That old picture floated to me like a seed blown off a moonlike puff. Dandelions appear whether you want them or not, even digitally. I like how they never give up.

Reach Denise Snodell at or on Twitter @DeniseSnodell