independent

Monday 21 October 2019

Dandelion clocks objects of great natural beauty

Dandelion clocks are objects of great natural beauty, design and perfection
Dandelion clocks are objects of great natural beauty, design and perfection

Jim Hurley - Nature Trail

There are lots of Dandelion clocks around at present and they are objects of great natural beauty, design and perfection.

The first attractive quality of the Dandelion clock is its down-soft, puffy, see-through roundness, its near-perfect spherical shape. If the ball-shaped head doesn't fall apart when you break off its supporting stem, it's worth picking a clock and examining its structure more closely.

The clock is, of course, the reproductive seed-head that develops from the familiar yellow flower. If you blow gently the clock fractures and reveals its component parts. The round head is composed entirely of the plant's fruits each borne at the end of a stalk topped with a feathery parachute.

Each dark, cylindrical fruit is long and narrow like a tiny cucumber and is inserted into the swollen top of the stem that formerly bore the flower.

When the seed-head is ripe a gentle breeze is all that is needed to toss the stem and tug the fruit free from its base. Once free, the fruit is borne aloft by the breeze and floats away on its feathery appendage before its weight parachutes it to the ground.

The biological advantage of the Dandelion clock is that it uses the wind to disperse the plant's seeds far and wide away from parent plant. The great abundance of Dandelions is testimony to the effectiveness of the dispersal mechanism.

The seed -head is known as a 'clock' because, in the past, children blew at the fluffy head and imagined they were telling the time by counting how many puffs it took to blow all the fruits away. Each puff was equivalent to one hour. Needless to say, the erstwhile technique wasn't as accurate as a modern-day mobile 'phone but it was probably more innocent fun.

Each airborne fruit floating on its tiny parachute contains a single seed. The word 'fruit' often conjures up images of soft, sweet, juicy things like blackberries or plums. However, in addition to the juicy fruits there are dry ones like the Dandelion with its hard, papery-walled fruits.

Juicy fruits have evolved to attract animals and birds to eat them thereby carrying the seeds away in their intestines to be deposited at a later date somewhere far from the parent plant.

Dandelion fruits are dry and papery as they use the wind to carry there offspring away from the parents. They have no need to be sweet or juicy.

Drogheda Independent

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