Spring’s First Dandelion

A hoverfly and a tiny ‘something’ enjoying a taste of spring

 

Other Texas dandelions surely are blooming, but this is the first I’ve seen this season. Also known as Carolina desert-chicory or smallflower desert-chicory (Pyrrhopappus carolinianus),  this European dandelion look-alike generally blooms from February through June, but at least this eager flower was willing to give January a try; I found it along the road leading into the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge only a few days ago, on January 24th.

Walt Whitman would have seen the European dandelion rather than our Texas version, but he seems to have enjoyed the sight. In 1888, the New York Herald ran this short poem written by him:

                                         The First Dandelion

                                         Simple and fresh and fair from winter’s close 
                                                    emerging, 
                                        As if no artifice of fashion, business, politics, 
                                                   had ever been, 
                                       Forth from its sunny nook of shelter’d grass,
                                                  innocent, golden, calm as the dawn, 
                                      The spring’s first dandelion shows its trustful 
                                                  face .

Unfortunately, Whitman’s paean to the coming spring ran on March 12, 1888, the worst day of the Blizzard of 1888, a day when several feet of snow and unceasing winds were making the American northeast a very unpleasant place. As the journal Illustrated American reported in 1892, somewhat primly, the poem “made its appearance at a most unfortunate time.” No one wanted to read about dandelions of any sort on that day. 

Parody was inevitable. One of the first examples appeared in the Herald two days after Whitman’s poem was published, signed simply, “After Walt Whitman.”

                                     The First Blizzard

                                     Simple and fresh and fierce, from Winter’s close 
                                          emerging, 
                                    As if no artifice of summer, business, politics 
                                         had ever been, 
                                   Forth from its snowy nook of shivering glaciers– 
                                        innocent, silver, pale as the dawn, 
                                  The Spring’s first blizzard shows its wryful 
                                         face. 

 Eventually, “The First Dandelion” appeared in the ‘deathbed’ edition of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass: a poem as delicate and sweet as the flower it celebrates.

 

Comments always are welcome.

62 thoughts on “Spring’s First Dandelion

    1. In truth, that’s a hoverfly rather than a bee (with an even tinier companion I didn’t notice when I took the photo). I added the hoverfly information to the caption, which I should have done in the beginning. I can imagine those insects are darned happy to have some fresh nectar and pollen to enjoy.

  1. Good for your area that this early dandelion was of native stock. In Austin this week I’ve been seeing only the invasive European ones. And it’s good of you to have unearthed not only Whitman’s little poem but also the parody it quickly gave rise to.

    1. Whitman’s poem and the parody offer a little something for everyone: both the dandelion-sighters and the winter-endurers. I saw further down in the comments that some are seeing the invasive dandelions in their lawns, but I haven’t come across one yet. There are reports of occasional and scattered ten-petal anemones and bluebonnets, too, as well as violets, but those have been in more residential settings.

  2. Keep singing of spring, Linda. I spent yesterday shoveling snow, and a nor’easter is forecast for the beginning of next week, bringing more snow. Our dandelions are months away yet, so I’ll enjoy yours vicariously!

    1. That’s a fair enough trade, since I’ve had to enjoy snow vicariously this winter. To be honest, I’m hoping that February brings another good dose of freezing weather, if not snow. If nothing else, it would slow down the reappearance of the mosquitoes. I’ve already seen a few, and I wasn’t pleased.

  3. We had our first serious snow of the winter a couple of days ago and I spent time shovelling my driveway, but I think two spring dandelions appeared for me. A neighbour two doors down who has a snow blower did my section of the sidewalk for me and then came back to blow out the section where it slopes down from the sidewalk onto the street – and then a strapping young man came from the house across the street and gave me a hand to finish the driveway. The first spring flowers always put a smile on my face but that winter kindness was heartwarming too.

    1. I’d say kindness was in full bloom for you, David. Given your circumstances, someone willing to donate a little time with a snowblower or shovel would beat a dandelion any time. The flowers will come, and you might be even happier to see them than those of us whose winters don’t require quite so much coping!

  4. Great to see the first signs of a spring bloom. Usually the first wildflowers appear in the desert in January, but I backpacked into the “outback” for two days this past weekend and was disappointed to find not a single thing blooming…not even a single bud to be found. The extended drought is now so deep that a single rain or snow event isn’t making a dent to break it.
    Please keep posting wonderful wildflower pics, because I’m afraid this year’s spring bloom will have to be a vicarious event for us out west.

    1. I’d wondered how things were out there, drought-wise. I didn’t realize how bad it is until I looked at the state drought map just now. I knew that the hill country was dry when I was there in December, but I see by the map that they’re edging toward significant drought, too. A few Pacific fronts would be good — we can’t have you bloomless all spring!

  5. No question, that flower is a dandy! the little bee obviously thinks so, too. Not seeing any spring blooms around here, yet, 9° this morning. Looking on the bright side, that’s nine whole degrees above zero!

    1. I can’t remember what 9° feels like, even though I lived in that and worse for years. Every winter there are at least a few times when I have to drag in plants or break ice on the bird bath, but this year we’ve only had one of those occasions. On the other hand, we can have ice storms and really cold weather in February — we may not be out of winter yet. That’s part of what makes the first flowers so special, I suppose. They don’t worry about the calendar or what’s to come; they just bloom.

    1. I suppose you have more of the European variety, rather than this one. I’ve noticed that these seem to prefer vacant lots, roadsides, and such, rather than lawns. They’re often quite thick in the Galveston cemeteries. They’re a bit like sunflowers in that regard; disturbed or neglected land seems to suit them.

  6. First I read the title, then saw the picture. Very surprised to see a much different flower than what I was expecting. Lovely, though, and the bee adds a nice touch. I am sure you will not be surprised to learn that not much is blooming in Maine.

    1. I’ll bet I know what you were expecting, too – I was greatly surprised when I learned that the common dandelion is a European import. This native’s in a different genus, but its appearance is similar enough to the more familiar dandelions that it probably was inevitable it would be given the name. I don’t suppose there are many flowers blooming around your ice houses just now!

  7. That dandelion is a wonderful reminder that spring is coming. I haven’t seen any blooms yet here in the Hill Country, but we’ve been getting a freeze just often enough to knock back the early, adventurous scouts. I’ll be interested to see how the dry weather affects the spring wildflower crop here. We’re not as dry as the folks to our west but we’re still way behind in rainfall.

    1. I’m certainly hoping for hill country and west Texas rain. The flowers in your area have been glorious in recent years, and like all of you who live there, I’ve been hoping for another good showing. We’ll take what we get, of course, but there’s still time. Hope and bluebonnets both are pretty good at springing eternal.

    1. And my robin still is hanging around. I thought he and his friends had gone, but he was in his accustomed place on the feeder tonight. He’s so funny; a pair of doves sits on one platform, and he sits on the other, for all the world like contented folks out on their porches, watching the sun go down.

  8. Gotta love the parody!! Hard to realize that just a few hundred miles to our south, the first dandelions are beginning to emerge. We’ll probably be snowed in for months, climate change or no. But the sun is shining, so that’s a bonus — rather like the two insects in your lovely photo, Linda!

    1. I didn’t see that second insect at the time. It wasn’t until I looked at the enlarged photo on the computer that I realized it was there. Early spring and late fall can be great times to find multiple insects on a bloom. When there aren’t as many flowers around, a little sharing is called for.

      If you get depressed by lingering cold and snow, click that link to the 1888 blizzard and look at some of the photos. That was quite a storm. Of course, on Valentine’s Day in 1895, Houston got 20″ of snow — don’t these guys look ready to take it on?

    1. Is it the cold, or the dry, or a combination of both that’s left you brown and down? Even with the snow you’ve had, it seems you’re a little droughty up there, too. Here’s to some nice spring rains to spiff things up.

  9. Great shot of that first dandy and complete with pollinator in attendance! I’m seeing the beginnings of buds on my oaks and ash trees. Just the beginnings, but definitely a thickening. I’m hoping for a cold February, but hope only gets one so far…

    1. I just remembered that Houston’s record snowfall came on Valentine’s Day in 1895. We may have matched those 20 or so inches since then, but I don’t think it’s been exceeded. Like you, I’m hoping for a little more cold, and I’d prefer it sooner rather than later. The last thing we need is another late freeze to take out the peach crop!

  10. The shops here are suddenly selling bunches of daffodils in bud. They open overnight to show their sunny faces to the world. Your Texas dandelion creates the same joyous feeling. Early maybe, but cheering nevertheless, especially with the hoverfly + !

    1. Even though our winter months are relatively mild and often quite green, there does come a time when a flower seems especially cheering. And what is it about yellow? Perhaps it’s that it’s sun-colored, and a reminder of the lengthening days. In any event, I love these bright natives. You’ve reminded me of a well-known daffodil garden a few hours north, too. I’ve tried to visit it for three years, but it’s a private concern in the country, and all three years there was so much rain the roads and bridges weren’t passable or safe. Perhaps this will be the year.

  11. Now that I think back, the first dandelion was as welcoming a sight as the crocus popping up through the last front or snow of the season. Thanks, Linda.

    1. Crocus are beautiful, too. In Iowa, those first flowers were especially welcome. I still remember the Easter when our tulips were in full bloom despite the foot of snow that surrounded them. They looked like little colored cups sitting on top of the snow — there wasn’t a single stem or leaf visible.

  12. Our dandelions here are definitely playing groundhog, Linda. Taking one look around and disappearing back under the ground! Smart flowers. I’ve been begrudging that we can’t do likewise. We have had several chore days this week and been forced to be out and about in the winds, rain and snow. No hiding out in our house. Not much fun when going to town means a 60 mile round trip. But then again, it was for doing things like getting the vaccine. Can’t begrudge that! :) –Curt

    1. On the other hand, I’ll bet your 60 mile round trip is more enjoyable than my 60 mile round trip into Houston, in the middle of that ghastly freeway traffic. When it’s necessary I do it, but I never look forward to it. I am glad to hear that you’ve gotten your vaccine. I got my first shot yesterday, and the second is scheduled. I didn’t even have a sore arm with this one, and really don’t expect it with the second. We’ll see.

      I just looked at RadarScope, and it seems you’re still getting rain. I was surprised to see Talent on the map — the weather’s right in your neighborhood. I hope it’s not long before some of your flowers can stop hiding, come out, and enjoy some sunshine. You, too.

      1. Just driving through Houston to get to you, Linda, was plenty for me! And then hitting the freeway into Louisiana was a night mare. Yes, I can guarantee my 60 miles are an absolute delight in comparison! –Curt

          1. I think I followed your recommendations going along the coast, Linda, but eventually the road hit 1-10, which was the worst road we traveled over on our 8,000 mile journey. :)

    1. Speaking of the Netherlands, I read a very interesting article today about a local boy who’s made very, very good. Tilman Fertitta, who’s developed entertainment areas just down the road from me and in Galveston, and who owns casinos in Louisiana, has taken possession of a new yacht. It’s actually a megayacht, and it was launched from the Feadship yard in Aalsmeer in early January. It was designed by the De Voogt naval architects, is 77 meters in length, and came with a price tag of a cool $150 million. It carries the name of a ‘smaller’ yacht that he keeps here: Boardwalk.

      There’s a nice time-lapsed video of it leaving the shipyard here, on its way to Rotterdam.

      1. Clearly, I’m spending my evening obsessed with this ship. This video of the sea trial is short, but very nice. I’ve met Tilman, and if anyone deserves a boat like this, it’s him. He’s the nicest guy in the world.

    1. They really are wonderful. A whole field filled with them is something to see — but look sharp, because they close around noon, and that flower-filled field suddenly will appear to be empty, until the next morning when they open again.

  13. Love the photo. Dandelions bloom year round in my yard. It is the one dependable plant that glows even in the darkest of days. Butterflies, bees, and other insects flock to the pretty yellow blossoms during the warm months. The other attribute of this plant is that it can be eaten and also possess medicinal properties. I know a young woman who eats the leaves raw to use for whatever ails her. Personally I have never tried eating the leaves but some folks harvest the leaves which are added to salads or cooked in a steamer.

    1. And the flowers can be used for dandelion wine. That was a staple in my grandparents’ neighborhood, along with rhubarb and cherry. I’ll tell you who else likes those tender young leaves, too — the squirrels. I used to go out and collect them for my pet squirrel. It’s important to pick them in places where herbicides and pesticides aren’t being used, so lawns and medians aren’t the best choice, but there certainly are plenty of other places where they grow freely.

  14. Nice to see your version of chicory in a warm glorious yellow. Until Wednesday, we still had a couple of straggling dandelions in the lawn (it’s been a warm winter until today and the grass was still green in spots) but the inches of snow put an end to them. Now we wait. I am always happy to see their return and that usually entices bees from their hibernation here when there is pollen available. Mary Beth, on the other hand, is not as excited about their return. It is one of our bones of contention when she wants to deadhead them and I want the bees to gather pollen.

    Most any picture looks even better with a hover fly and yours is lovely.

    1. I grew up in an anti-dandelion neighborhood; my dad and his buddies went to war against the poor flowers as though they were a sign of sloth, or worse. You should tell Mary Beth about dandelion wine. Maybe if she saw them as a useful crop, it would nudge her toward appreciation.

      The hoverflies are out now: not exactly in force, but they’re becoming more common. I’ve seen a couple of butterflies, and by mid-February we should be seeing even more. I spotted what I think was a blooming redbud the other day. It was in a residential area, and sheltered, but still: there it was.

      1. It is exhilarating as many of the warmer climate plants and insects return to activity. I’ll be enjoying them vicariously through your explorations until ours return. Then I’ll enjoy both yours and mine.

      2. I’ve explained their usefulness to the bees as they return to activity but she sees the seeds as littering the lawn which already is no challenge to a golf course. We get plenty of hawkweeds that send their fluffy seeds all over but she has a thing about dandelions. At least she only deadheads them so the plants live on and we have compromised on how many and where the head lopping happens.

  15. Oh! Love the poems and parodies! I think we have a love-hate relationship with dandelions. They are the first flower a child gives its mother. Good. They wreak havoc on the lawn. Not so good. But they’re so bright after all that snow! Very good!

    1. Isn’t that just the truth? Bad and good, all in one little, fuzzy, yellow package. It’s as if dandelions are one of the Rorschach tests of the botanical world! I suppose if I were in charge of a golf course or a fancy lawn, I’d try to eliminate them, too. But when I see the squirrels nibbling on their leaves or the insects having a bit of pollen, they don’t seem so bad.

    1. I just left a comment full of envy on your blog. Your yard always seems to be my first reminder to start looking for spring blooms — that strip of land from Matagorda northward to Columbus seems to pull in a river of rain and warmth even when places on either side don’t have it, so I think it’s time for a trip to your area.

  16. Nice! And nice to see on the eve of a predicted three-day winter storm (depending, of course, on the accuracy of the models). And the hover fly is is an added bonus.

    1. I knew there was heavy weather on the west coast, but I hadn’t heard about an east coast storm — or didn’t pay enough attention to mentions of it. I laughed at your cautionary note. I depend on our NWS a good bit, but I’ve learned to calculate their wind estimates by addition. If they say it’s going to be blowing 10-15 mph, I add them together, and 25 mph usually is right.

      The dandelions, of course, enjoy those winds. It helps to keep their seeds ahead of the homeowners trying to keep them under control.

    1. We’re still ‘waffle-y’ in the weather department: warm now, but still with a month or so when cold can arrive. To be true, a lot of people are hoping for some real cold, so we avoid losing fruit crops to a late freeze. In the meantime, we enjoy these little bits of the coming season!

  17. A bright yellow bloom is welcome any time! And if it provides even a moment of happiness or hope for one who has been trapped for months within a gray world, so much the better!

    Every chance we get (or take?), off goes the tee-vee, off goes the computer, off WE go into the field or forest or swamp.

    “As if no artifice of fashion, business, politics,
    had ever been …”

    For us, as we explore the natural world, diversions become objectives.

    1. Isn’t it amazing what yellow can do for the spirits? A bowl of lemons in the kitchen, a warbler at the feeder — or a dandelion! Sunflowers come along eventually, and goldenrod, but while those slugabeds are still debating whether to show up, you can count on the dandelions. If they’re going to bloom, we’d better get out there and admire them.

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