This is NOT a Dandelion. | Deep Look


From Deep Look.

Not every yellow bloom ― or fluffy white globe ― taking over your backyard is a dandelion. Some of them are close relatives called catsears. But both of them have a little secret. To tell them apart and discover why they’re so successful you need to peek under their petals.

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Gardeners cursing as they yank out yellow blooms from the ground might be misplacing their anger. Not everything that looks like a dandelion is one.

Dandelions have many doppelgangers, among them the most successful plant you’ve never heard of: catsears.

Bees and butterflies love the nectar and pollen provided by dandelions and catsears, and little songbirds like lesser goldfinches feed on their seeds. But it’s hard to convince some gardeners of their virtues.

“Most people who have a nice turf want only grasses,” said Joe DiTomaso, a weed researcher who retired from the University of California, Davis.

Whether you’re a friend or a foe, telling dandelions and catsears apart could be useful ― if only to know thine enemy ― and a fun way to ponder what makes these yellow blooms so successful.

— How do you tell if it’s a dandelion?

Under a dandelion’s ― and a catsear’s ― petals you’ll see green structures that hold the bloom. They’re called phyllaries. In catsears, they all point up. In dandelions, some phyllaries curl down.

Dandelion and common catsear leaves have a similar shape, with toothed edges that give dandelions their name ― an adaptation from the French dent-de-lion, or lion’s tooth. The leaves of the common catsear are more lobed than pointy and they’re furry, while dandelions’ are smooth. Both leaves are edible, prepared in salads or sautéed.

One other way to tell them apart is that each stem of catsears branches into multiple blooms, while dandelions have only one bloom per stem.

— What other plants look like dandelions?

A plant by the scientific name of Leontodon resembles dandelions so much that it is known as false dandelion. It is also known as lesser hawkbit, said DiTomaso.

“Where it’s confusing is its leaves look fairly similar and it has one flower per stem like dandelion, so a lot of people think it’s dandelion,” he said.

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