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Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) are a widespread and well known flowering plant. They occur, it seems, in every backyard, garden, playground, parking lot, and asphalt crack in the country - and far beyond. The word by which we know this common plant derives from one of the French names for it - dent-de-lion, or "lion's tooth." And from this meaning stems the title of Anita Sanchez's book The Teeth of the Lion: The Story of the Beloved and Despised Dandelion.
The Teeth of the Lion is loaded with information and thought-provoking ideas, all packaged into a thoughtfully conceived, engagingly presented, easily accessible collection of focused essays that explore the natural history of the dandelion and the plant's long association with humans. Readers will come away from this book familiar with the structure and life cycle of the dandelion and the ecology of the species, but they also will learn how the dandelion has been used over thousands of years by humans, what benefits humans have derived from this association, how humans have spread the species to areas far beyond its natural range, and how the perception of the dandelion has changed - dramatically - during recent decades.
What begins as a focus on tiny parts of big processes becomes, toward the end of the book, a focus on large-scale concerns of continental and even global significance. Set within the context of the debate over whether dandelions are good or bad - whether they are fondly appreciated memories of childhood, pretty yellow flowers, or stubbornly wicked weeds - the book confronts the widespread use of great volumes of herbicides on those recently adopted elements of the cultural landscape known as "lawns." Perhaps no other plant is the target of such a barrage of deadly chemicals, but the herbicides not only fail to eliminate dandelions but also poison birds and other parts of the ecosystem. The final chapter uses the dandelion to illustrate how a little bit of green management of lawns - the use of organic landscaping techniques - can reduce unwanted dandelions but also minimize or eliminate the need to apply chemical toxins in these landscapes.