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  • Writer's pictureJohn R

Ridin' the Wild Leon

It’s the doldrums of summer (in so many ways, n'est-ce pas?) and time to point with a certain amount of pride to the things that are tres manifique in our garden, namely Leontodon.

Why the French? Hey, pourquoi pas? Anyway, once you get started on it’s hard to stop. Especially in a doldrum.

Back to Leontodon (and not a moment too soon). This perky little yellow-topped flower grows like a weed. That’s because it is a weed. In our yard it enjoys a certain late-season dominance mostly because I don’t feel like weeding and also because we’re PC and we let our grass go dormant on account of we don’t want to use up too much water because the Colorado River is drying up. We are not connected to the Colorado River system, in fact we’re hundreds of miles away, but we live in an arid summertime climate and it’s the thought that counts. Bonus: I don’t have to mow it, either, not that I feel like it.

So we let our grass endure a slow and tortuous moisture starvation until it’s as dry and crispy as a fresh-out-of-the-bag Tim’s salt-and-vinegar potato chip (mmm!) This deliberately conscious water-conserving decision—some would say neglect—turns our yard into a crunchy brown wasteland by August.


To the botanical rescue gallops Leontodon, drought-defiant, stubborn, broad-leafed and well-deserving of its reputation as a crappy weed. No self-respecting homeowner would allow such a plethora of botanical low-lifes to populate their lawn (we have hundreds). However, in my defense I must say that sitting in the shade of the front porch eating whole wheat flakes with blueberries and yogurt and watching honeybees land on Leontodon flowers so that even their tiny bee-weight causes Leontodon’s long stems to bend and swing in wild arcs so the bees have to hang on like little rodeo riders is pretty good doldrum entertainment.

Leontodon is often called a “false dandelion” and that’s a claim to fame for a buttload of other plants: Hypochaeris radicata, Agoeris, Crepis, Hieracium, Nothocalais, Pyrrhopappus, and of course Scorzoneriodes (but you knew that). Several of these other species have made the noxious weed lists of various states, so you can get a good idea of the type of plant we’re dealing with here.

Cute Wikipedia fact: Leontodon is also called “hawksbits” because back in mediaeval times it was thought that hawks ate Leontodon to improve their eyesight. Apparently, you can make up any historical fact as long as you attribute it to mediaeval times.

Want another Wikipedia amazement: Try this: “Recent research has shown that the genus Leontodon in the traditional delimitation is polyphyletic. Therefore, the former Leontodon subgenus Oporinia was raised to generic level.”

Yeah, that’s what I thought, too. That kind of stuff will set you right back into a doldrum. Time to pour some flakes, shake out the blueberries, and watch bees ride some wild Leontodon.

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