Dandelions can reproduce asexually, without pollination, which means that a random mutation can create a new ‘microspecies’. There are several hundred of these microspecies but all have the familiar yellow flowers, toothed leaves and sappy stems. Despite their reputation as a persistent weed, dandelions have benefits for gardens attracting bees, moths and butterflies, particularly early in the year when other flowers are scarce. The long tap roots that make them hard to dig up help bring minerals and nitrogen within reach of more shallowly-rooted plants. All parts of the plant are edible: the petals can be made into biscuits and desserts, dandelion wine, or added to salads along with the leaves, which can also be blanched like spinach. The roots can be ground to make ersatz coffee and feature in soft drinks like dandelion and burdock or root beer. Dandelions contain a wealth of minerals and vitamins but are diuretic, hence the French nickname pis-en-lit.
Of the many other yellow daisies, these are some of the more common ones here:
Catsear has irregular bracts with tiny dark bristles on the tips and hairy leaves (Hawkweeds also have bracts in several rows, but without the bristly black tips).
Goatsbeard grows prolifically on the verge between Bittaford and Ivybridge station. The large flowers open only in morning sun and are framed by longer bracts that make the unopened buds a distinctive shape. The handsome seed heads are about the size of tennis balls.
Hawksbeards have bracts in two rows, with the shorter bracts of beaked hawksbeard and rough hawksbeard spreading outwards and those of smooth hawksbeard upright and neater.
Beaked hawksbeard: Note red-striped underneaths of the petals in bud, hairy lower stems and triangular stem leaves that clasp the stem.
Smooth hawksbeard: leaves a mix of smooth and pointy-lobed, with stem leaves that have free rather than clasping basal lobes (see left-hand picture).
Rough hawksbeard is growing along Bittaford Road. Note bristly longer bracts and spreading shorter bracts, ridged stem, and large shaggy flowers.
There are over 400 hawkweeds. They are generally hairy with bracts in several rows (like catsear, unlike hawksbeards), leaves that are sometimes toothed but not lobed, and several flowers per stem.
Mouse-ear hawkweed is distinctive, with leaves that have furry undersides and long white hairs above. Note the black glandular hairs on the bracts of the flower. This plant was photographed on Dartmoor.
Nipplewort is abundant throughout the summer, with many branched flower stems, smooth green buds, small yellow flowers, and distinctive leaves with the upper leaves roundly triangular and the lower leaves having a pair of rounded lobes at the base.
Smooth sowthistle is also abundant. Note how the leaves clasp the stems. Prickly sowthistle is similar but with obviously prickly leaves. Perennial sowthistle has larger flowers and glossy leaves with soft prickles (flowers mid-July onwards).
Common ragwort and groundsel:
Common fleabane and tansy: