In Bloom: Teeth of the lion
As anyone with allergies can attest, flower season has arrived!In response to readers’ requests to learn more about the flowers they see on their everyday hikes, like the Ute Trail and Arbaney Kittle, along with the lesser-traveled hikes that were the focus of last year’s In Bloom columns, this summer’s column will alternate between the two.This week’s tried-and-true is the Sunnyside Trail in Aspen. Owing to its pure southern exposure, moderate elevation and unfettered views of the Elk Mountains, it’s a perfect early season hike, currently boasting more than three dozen species of flowers. One of the most overlooked of those flowers, owing paradoxically to its ubiquitousness, is Taraxacum officinale, the common dandelion. From the French “dents de lion,” or “teeth of the lion,” referring to the jagged teeth of the dandelion’s leaves, dandelions may be our most successful wildflower. A non-native from Asia by way of Europe that is now found in every corner of the continent, the dandelion owes its success to a number of clever adaptations. First and foremost among them is the dandelion’s famous and highly efficient method of spreading seeds, which are carried on the wind or the breath of a child like tiny parasols. In addition, as anyone who has ever tried to pull them from her lawn knows, dandelions have unusually deep roots. These enable the dandelion to access water during droughts and to survive being eaten by the likes of deer, elk, bear, rabbits, grouse and Canada geese. The animals know what they’re doing – ounce for ounce, dandelions have more vitamin A than carrots and more potassium than bananas. People, as well, have been eating its leaves like spinach, boiling its roots like tubers, and using its flowers to make wine since ancient times. Furthermore, as one of the earliest bloomers of the season, the dandelion is an important source of nectar for bees and dozens of insects (even though, unlike most flowers, it does not rely on pollination by insects to produce its seeds). The dandelion is able to bloom early because it forms its flower while still under the soil. This way it is protected from late frosts and is ready to shoot up and open its bud at the first sign of a warm spell. Once in bloom, dandelions protect themselves from the cold by opening in the morning and closing at night. Hopefully understanding why the dandelion is seemingly everywhere will help us “see” it – and appreciate it – a bit more on our summer hikes.Getting there: From Highway 82 coming upvalley, shortly before entering Aspen over the Castle Creek Bridge, take a left on Cemetery Lane and drive to the parking area at Stein Park (on the left, immediately after crossing the river at the bottom of the hill). Head down the Rio Grande Trail (the downriver direction) a short distance; watch for the Sunnyside trailhead on the right.
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