Plant of the Week
Horned Dandelion (Taraxacum ceratophorum)
By Charmaine Delmatier (2014)
Unlike its exotic weedy relative, the common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), you might be surprised to know we do have a few native dandelions to North America. One such dandelion grows in high mountain landscapes, most often in alpine environments. Horned dandelion (Taraxacum ceratophorum) is restricted to more moist mountainous regions usually above treeline in meadows and moist places among large rocks. Horned dandelion is also known as ‘alpine dandelion’, according to the Flora of North America is the most widespread native dandelion in North America, and is usually restricted from the low Arctic and boreal zone to the western Cordilleras. It is distributed from Alaska to Nevada to Arizona, throughout Canada, and in Asia.
Like the common sunflower, our alpine dandelion has bright yellow florets. The flowering head is conspicuously larger compared to the overall size of the individual plant is surprisingly It is a taprooted perennial, leaves are basal, mostly lobed to coarsely toothed, and the achenes are straw colored to light brown and beaked. The number of stems can vary from 1–10 and are ascending to erect. There is a purplish tinge at the base as well as dense villous hairs, but the hairs become sparse to glabrous as they go upwards.
A robust green herbaceous forb, it is a member of the Sunflower family, Asteraceae. The Sunflower family constitutes the largest plant family in the world with approximately 1,550 genera and 23,000 species. In North America, the numbers are considerably lower with 418 genera and 2,413 species. The orchid family (Orchidaceae) and legume family (Fabaceae) are second and third worldwide.
Many use leaves from the widespread more common invasive dandelion as an enjoyable salad green. It is not known how well this alpine version tastes, but perhaps some of the smaller nongame animals feast on its leaves. However, one of the general common names for dandelion is “bitter herb” from the Arabic derivative ‘talkh chakok’. From the Greek, the derivatives are "cerat" and "phoros" which mean ‘horn’ and ‘bearing’, which refers to its swollen red-tinged phyllary tips.
While the weedy non-native invasive dandelion can dominate and replace huge areas of native vegetation, our alpine dandelion occurs as a yellow native beauty.