Taraxacum officinale F.H. Wigg.

Common Dandelion


CC = *
CW = 3
MOC = 81

© SRTurner

Family - Asteraceae/Cichorieae

Habit - Perennial forb with a fleshy taproot.

Taraxacum_officinale_root.jpg Taproot.

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Stem - Ascending to erect, 1 to several, to 40 cm, continuing to elongate as the heads mature, unbranched, hollow, nearly smooth, glabrous or with patches of fine, white, cobwebby hairs, sometimes purplish-tinged or purplish-mottled.

Taraxacum_officinale_scape.jpg Stem.

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Leaves - All basal, short-to long-petiolate. Leaf blades shallowly to deeply and irregularly pinnately lobed, sometimes more shallowly lobed toward the tip than toward the base, sometimes nearly compound, narrowly oblanceolate to obovate or elliptic in outline, the lobes triangular with angled sinuses, irregularly toothed, glabrous or 1 or both surfaces sparsely to moderately pubescent along the veins with fine, irregularly curled, white, sometimes somewhat cobwebby hairs, sometimes pinkish-to purplish-tinged toward the base. Venation of 1 main vein and a network of anastomosing secondary and tertiary veins.

Taraxacum_officinale_leaf1.jpg Leaf adaxial.

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Taraxacum_officinale_leaf2.jpg Leaf abaxial.

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Inflorescences - Heads solitary at the stem tips.

Heads - Ligulate. Involucre 12-25 mm long, elongating somewhat as the fruits mature, somewhat urn-shaped to cup-shaped at flowering, the inner series of bracts mostly 13-23, the outer series less than to more than half to about half as long as the inner series, usually glabrous, often purplish-tinged, especially toward the tip; those of the inner series similar in size and shape, sometimes more or less fused along the margins toward the base when young, lanceolate, with well-differentiated, thin, pale margins, the tip sharply pointed or minutely notched, ascending at flowering; those of the outer series less than to more than half as long as the inner series, ovate to narrowly ovate, mostly becoming reflexed as the heads first develop. Receptacle naked.

Taraxacum_officinale_involucre.jpg Involucre.

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Taraxacum_officinale_head1.jpg Flowering head.

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Taraxacum_officinale_head2.jpg Flowering head, ventral.

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Florets - Ligulate florets 40-120 or more per head. Corollas bright yellow, sometimes purplish-or grayish-brown-tinged on the outer surface. Pappus of numerous bristles, these smooth or microscopically barbed, white.

Taraxacum_officinale_florets.jpg Florets.

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Taraxacum_officinale_florets2.jpg Florets in sectioned head.

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Fruits - Fruits with the body 3-4 mm long, oblanceolate in outline, tapered to a slender beak usually more than twice as long as the body, not or only slightly flattened, with 4 or 5 rounded or flattened ribs, these sometimes with 1 or 2 shallow longitudinal grooves, smooth or appearing smooth or more commonly minutely pebbled or roughened, with several rows of prominent barbs toward the tip, glabrous, olive-colored to greenish brown at maturity, the pappus attached to a relatively broad, expanded, disclike tip.

Taraxacum_officinale_fruits1.jpg Maturing achenes. Note dramatically elongated beak between achene and pappus.

© SRTurner

Taraxacum_officinale_fruits.jpg Fruiting head.

Body of achene is typically a dull green-gray-tan in color. Reddish achenes indicate a different species.

© SRTurner

Flowering - Any month of the year.

Habitat - Lawns, gardens, cemeteries, fields, pastures, roadsides, railroads, open disturbed areas.

Origin - Native to Europe

Lookalikes - Numerous other species in the Cichorieae tribe of the Asteraceae.

Other info. - There are very few people who do not know this plant, and it is included here partially as a reference for comparison to lookalike species. It can be differentiated from most other lookalikes by its laciniate leaves which are all basal, hollow stems with milky juice and a single flowering head, and outer involucral bracts which are typically reflexed. The plant occurs across Missouri, the U.S., and in temperate regions globally.

There are a few lookalikes which are much harder to distinguish. T. erythrospermum is virtually impossible to distinguish by any means except close examination of the fruits, which are reddish instead of olive green-gray. Also, Nothocalais cuspidata shows most of the characteristics listed above, except that the leaves are sinuate-margined rather than laciniate. Both of these species are much less common in Missouri than the common dandelion.

Common dandelion was introduced deliberately to the New World, brought by pioneers as food, medicine, and reminders of their native lands. The young leaves are edible and used in salads and to brew a wine. Dandelion greens currently enjoy a sort of trendy gastronomic status in the U.S. (Care must be taken in harvesting wild greens to ensure they are not contaminated with herbicides.) The roots have been roasted and brewed into a coffee-like beverage, in a manner similar to chicory. The plants are, of course, a common colorful accent in lawns everywhere, and a bane to the fastidious gardener.

Photographs taken near Labadie, Franklin County, MO, 3-27-2020, at Pacific Palisades Conservation Area, MO, 4-2-2020, along the Katy Trail near Dutzow, Warren County, MO, 4-3-2020, and along the Katy Trail near Treloar, Warren County, MO, 4-22-2022 (SRTurner).