The yellow flower heads of praeseach bhuidhe, or charlock, have sprung from the landscaped soil of a riverside 'feature' off-setting smart new apartments where once there was a green field, an old ruined corn mill, and, indeed, a couple of cattle - a rus-in-urbe postcard scene from the distant past.
If it escapes the vigilance of caretakers, not many tenants coming to live here will know the name of this plant, whose leaves fed the starving in famine times, and which will spring up from seed asleep in the ground for more than 100 years. Sometimes it can have a companion in the scarlet common poppy (Papaver rhoeas) where new motorway work has piled up debris.
Wall barley (Hordeum murinum) is a surprising soldier nearby as well as hawksbeards (Crepis capillaris) and groundsel (Seneca vulgaris) which used be sought by owners of caged song birds in the distant past. There is also now a scattering of dandelion parachutes - following more yellow blooms - drifting in the breeze spreading their futures wherever they may fall. Children used to call them clocks, blowing off the seeds to tell the time or trying to catch one on the wing to make a wish.
The sharp pointed leaves of Taraxcum officinale, resembling the teeth of a lion, give the plant its name, in French, dent-de-lion. When the sun-like heads are blooming, some gardeners may see it as a pest but times are changing and there is a new tolerance with areas being left to see what wild growths will emerge.
Dandelion has its attractions. The painter Albrecht Durer included flower heads in his close-up portrait of a square foot of meadow in 1503. Shakespeare in Cymbeline has "golden lads and girls all must/ As chimney sweepers come to dust". And John Keats imagined "the soft rustle of a maiden's gown/ Fanning away the dandelion's gown". Liam Clancy recorded a song called Dandelion Wine which "makes you remember the first day of spring in the middle of November".
This inspirational common weed also possesses medicinal properties. Long considered a diuretic, it has a reputation as being beneficial for blood pressure, liver and kidney problems. The diuretic element garnered a folk reputation among children in the west as "wet-the-beds"; a more earthy name is from a traditional French dish called 'piss-en-lit-au-lard' which are fried pork scraps and croutons served on a dandelion bed.
The sharp salad leaves are not some new table fare: more than a century ago before heated greenhouses could provide early lettuces, dandelions were grown for the kitchens of country houses - the plant's usefulness being valued for aiding the digestion. Its benefits as a herbal cleanser, with high levels of potassium, iron, vitamin C and beta-carotene have scientific support. The US Department of Agriculture rates dandelion leaves as being more nutritious than broccoli or spinach.
Be careful when you go to pull a few leaves for the table. Source it well. Obviously organic gardens are better than roadside verges or public parks. The plant absorbs toxins from traffic and mowers, not to mention herbicides which may be applied in some places.