Gardeners always groan but children grin—when their parents aren’t looking—as they make wishes and blow seed heads in the wind. My dear mother hated dandelions in our yard, prodding and poking them with a fork-like tool before spraying weed killer to end their—well, her—misery. It wasn’t long after she was laid to rest in 1994 that I visited her grave and spotted one lonely dandelion rising in the center of her grave. I couldn’t help but smile.
Dandelion gets its common name from dents de lion, French for “lion’s teeth,” referring to the plant’s jagged green leaves. In folklore, the dandelion represents the three celestial bodies of the sun, moon, and stars. The yellow flower is the sun, the puffy seedball is the moon, and the dispersing seeds are the stars. Every part of the dandelion—roots, leaves, and flower—can be used for food, medicines, wines, and dye. And I recently learned that the dandelion flower is supposed to carry a message: When things seem bleak, don’t give up. Remember the cheerfulness—and persistence—of this yellow flower, and stick it out.
But what I most appreciate about dandelions is the special relationship they have with children.
When I was a little girl in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, the neighboring Cooney kids had a grandmother who often came to visit. Her name was Mrs. Phelan, and she had twinkling blue eyes, rosy cheeks, silver hair, and open arms. I didn’t have a grandmother, but I wished I did—one like Granny Phelan, to love and to love me back. One day, I made her a “dandelion tree” by carefully threading several milky flower stems through a tiny branch and its twigs. Granny Phelan’s heartwarming reaction—with its big, warm hug—was one I’ll never forget.
In May 1987, I was mourning the loss of our recently stillborn baby. As I prepared for that Mother’s Day Sunday Mass, I was teary-eyed and dreading being around other mothers with their cheerful carnation or rose corsages. When I came out to our living room, I saw our three young children standing there with a “corsage” for me to wear—three dandelions hanging from a giant safety pin. The love and joy in their sweet faces almost brought me to my knees.
The corsage, with its swinging, half-dead dandelions, was pinned to my dress. When I walked up to receive Communion, all the other mothers smiled at me, giving me comfort that my corsage was heartfelt and pure.
Just this week, my grandson Rory toddled across our front lawn, stopping midway to bend and pick a dandelion for me. I smiled deeply. The grandmother I always wished for is now the one I’ve become, accepting bouquets of God’s finest flower—from his greatest earthly gift, a child. ❖
This article was published originally in 2023, in GreenPrints Issue #133.