“Weeds are flowers, too, once you get to know them.” A.A. Milne
Who doesn’t love dandelions? They are the most well recognized flower anywhere you go. Kids love them and enjoy watching the delicate seeds drift in the wind. Well, when you grow up and have to deal with them in the lawn it becomes a whole other story. From cracks in the driveway to the middle of the yard the dandelion has successfully colonized most of the temperate world. Dandelions are members of the sunflower family, Asteraceae, that are a perennial originating from Eurasia. All parts of the plant are edible and are high in various nutrients and minerals. But most do not appreciate all that the plant offers.
When pollinators emerge in early spring they come out hungry. Dandelions are one of the early spring flowering plants and offer much needed sugar. In comparison to other blooming spring plants the sugar content of dandelions is around 50%, which is a lot. However, the protein found in the pollen is missing several key elements to be beneficial.
White clover is another early spring perennial plant that has been classified as a lawn weed in the last 100 years. Early settlers brought white clover with them and it soon escaped cultivation and can be found in every state in the U.S. and Canada. White clover is in the bean family, Fabaceae, and like most plants in this family it can fix nitrogen to the soil. However, since classified as a lawn and landscape weed they are targets for removal.
Early spring pollinators need a balanced diet much like people. Too much sugar and not enough protein will not provide the queens with essential elements for healthy progeny. White clover does produce nectar but not in the same quantity as dandelions. However, unlike dandelions, the protein content of white clover pollen is high and contains all the essential nutrients needed for pollinator health.
Dandelions and white clover together make for a happy and healthy diet options for pollinators. However, they do not make for a happy homeowner. The last 50 years we have become obsessed with a thick, lush, weed-free lawn. We spray, pull, and weed-out anything that is not turf grass from the lawn. This leaves very little options for our insect friends.
Besides choosing plants from the Nebraska Pollinator Habitat Certification application we would like to challenge you to leave some of the plants that you consider a weed in your landscape. We are not asking to let your lawn become a field of white and gold but allow some dandelions to bloom in the spring and manage them later as the season progresses. Before you decide to reach for the weed killer remember that a queen bee is out there scouting for food for her new nest and you can make a difference in her life.