Lion’s tooth

Let’s talk about Leontodon, last name: autumnalis, if one prefers formality.

My notes suggested possible columns on crickets and this plant for August, based it suggests – on good photographs which, now that I’ve started, I hope I can find. (My luck does not always run in that direction.)

I knew that this plant was commonly called a fall dandelion, similar to the scourge of our summer yards and yet a bit different in having a couple of flowers on the same stem which is also longer. All these plants are used for curing something or other, right? So, if I can’t find much on the plant, then I can always dwell on their curative powers.

Only it’s now a Sunday night and I have come up cold. Or close to it.

It’s a “fall-blooming European herb with a yellow flower, naturalized in the United States.” And, if that weren’t enough (and that was the article in its entirety!), under “familiarity information” I find that “Leontodon Autumnalis” is very rarely used as a noun. Well, why not? It certainly isn’t a verb!

If an herb, however, what is it good for? It doesn’t appear to be sold or useful for much of anything. The definition above suggests that somebody thought enough of the plant to carry it across the Atlantic to introduce it here. Though, now that I ponder longer, I suppose it could have snuck in on its own.

So, what’s the big deal?

Newcomb, my go-to book, lists it as having a yellow flower with only basal leaves and slender stalks usually forked with more than a single flower. (Our dandelion is “Taraxacum” so really quite different.) Hawkweed which is similar in appearance has hairy but more rounded leaves while our dandelions are so toothed that the lion-name makes lots of sense.

As most of us know, dandelions can happily exist right up to the first frosts though Newcomb does say they can be seen occasionally in the wintertime as well. “Leontodon” is summer and fall only.

Actually, the name is a good giveaway: Leo for “lion” and “autumnalis” – yeah, you can figure that out.

Audubon prefers not to mention it at all.

What I am referring to is a plant that looks like a dandelion with more than one flower on a stem, a plant that appears later and isn’t as common (perhaps). Each of its heads is about an inch wide while dandelions can grow to two. The flowers are dandelion-yellow with numerous rays. In plant books it is grouped close to the hawkweeds while Peterson sticks in an entire page of lettuces plus lots of sow-thistles (though they can be thorny and are best left alone). Audubon also has it close to coltsfoot – the same yellowy plant with numerous rays.

Besides being a study in how to fill a column when there is nothing to say, I find I have learned something tonight. Obviously not looking closely in the past, I had assumed each ray of a dandelion flower came to a neat little dandelion point. If that’s the picture you held, well, shame on us both. A da- is actually straight across at the end … unless you look very, very closely.

Go. Try it.

Then you will see that each ray has five tiny teeth at the tip.

It’s true! I can’t wait to get back to the yard!

In the meantime, I think we should change the comment that “Leontodon autumnalis is rarely used as a noun.” Let’s each add it to at least one sentence tomorrow.

Susan Crossett has lived outside Cassadaga for more than 20 years. A lifetime of writing led to these columns as well as two novels. “Her Reason for Being” was published in 2008 with “Love in Three Acts” released in June. Copies are available at Papaya Arts on the Boardwalk in Dunkirk and the Cassadaga ShurFine. Information on all the Musings, the books and the author can be found at Susancrossett.com.