Did you know not all dandelions are dandelions?

Say what?

It blew my mind a bit too, but it’s true.

See, there are copy-cat dandelions, known also as cats ear, that look so similar to dandelions that we just assume they are dandelions, and we attribute any differences we do notice to different varieties. But in reality, they’re not another variety of dandelion at all.

You see, I collected a bunch of dandelion flower heads the other day to dry to use in dandelion salve. It’s supposed to be good for sore muscles and such. But in some reading on herbs that I was doing, I read about copy-cat dandelions. That tidbit of information led me to search out the differences and go check the plants I’d harvested the dandelion flowers from, and sure enough, I had the copy-cat variety.

Dang.

They’re edible and safe, but they don’t quite have the same medicinal properties as true dandelions do. My salve would have been less effective. Thankfully I hadn’t even infused the flowers in oil yet, so I was able to toss them out without wasting anything.

So…how do you tell a real dandelion from a copy-cat?

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True dandelion

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False dandelion–fuzzy leaves

Both have leaves growing from a central spot, but real dandelions have serrated leaf edges that look kind of like teeth. Lion’s teeth. Dandelions. Easy to remember. Fake dandelions tend to have rounder edges on their leaves.
Real dandelions also have no hair or fuzz on their leaves, while copy-cat varieties do.

Real ones tend to be more deeply rooted with longer roots than copy-cats, but both have taproots.

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Single, hollow stem per flower

The flowers are probably the easiest thing to see the difference with. Both have yellow flowers (and the seed puffs that follow the death of the flower) that look quite similar, but the stems are different. A real one will have one flower (or seed puff) on a stem, with no branching. The stem is hollow, and when cut has a milky white substance inside which is actually latex. If you have latex allergies, you probably want to avoid handling cut dandelions.

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Branching, denser stem

A false dandelion will have the same flowers, but the stem isn’t quite the same and will branch. There’s often only one flower per branch on a stem, but this is different from having a single flower per stem. This is how I knew at a glance that most of mine are false dandelions. I had to search for a handful of real ones to show you.

My plan now is to rid my yard of the false dandelions and allow the real ones to grow in strategically placed areas (read: out of my front lawn and away from my garden) so I can still have some to harvest for medicinal purposes and not have to worry about it being the right kind. That way I can actually make a dandelion salve…

 

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