Ask the Hort Agent: Dandelions

  • Posted: Monday, October 28, 2013 4:42 p.m.
    UPDATED: Monday, October 28, 2013 4:45 p.m.

Question: What is the white stuff that oozes out of a stinking dandelion stem?

Answer: While I understand the desire of some people to have “weed free” lawns, I do not condone the belittlement of innocent (often native) plants that are merely growing in a place where the encouraged plant (turf grass) is most often improperly maintained.  Having distanced myself from some sort of negative position, the answer to the question is latex.  The white “stuff” is latex.

Many plants produce latex for two primary purposes.  First, it prevents insects from feeding on or entering the plant.  Second, it prevents dehydration (or water loss) by sealing up the wounded area.

Other common latex producers include sweet potatoes and figs.  Of course, the big Christmas plant, poinsettia, is also a latex producer.  The most famous latex producer is the rubber tree, Hevea brasiliensis.  This plant produces the world's supply of latex for everything from gloves to tennis shoes.  The rubber tree grows in tropical areas that are also famous for deforestation, changing weather and unstable governments.  Therefore, the price of rubber products often skyrockets without warning.  Have you bought a set of tires lately?
One tire company is planning to stabilize the latex (rubber) market by switching latex sources.  Guess what plant is slated to replace the rubber tree…yep, the dandelion.  Obviously, this plant has more flexible growing conditions (no pun intended).    http://www.foxnews.com/leisure/2013/10/24/continental-developing-weed-based-tire-rubber/?intcmp=HPBucket

Some folks are allergic to latex.  Their body identifies latex as a harmful substance.  Their immune system triggers certain antibodies to fight the latex.  Allergic signs and symptoms cover a wide range from a simple rash to anaphylactic shock (which can be life threatening).

While most rubber products contain some natural latex, the “dipped” products like balloons and gloves usually cause the worst allergic reactions.  Air born latex dust is the specific culprit with the dipped products.  The latex from plant stems are not air born.  While they are still capable of causing allergic reactions, the most common type will be a skin rash.  For more info about latex allergies consult your doctor.  For some general info on latex allergies, visit http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/latex-allergy/DS00621/DSECTION=causes  If you don't have internet access then call me at 910-893-7530 or email me at gpierce@harnett.org   

Dandelions are used in salads and teas in Europe.  They are important as winter and early spring sources of nectar and pollen for bees.  Now it may become the world's source of latex.  How many uses does a plant have to have before it overcomes the stigma of being a weed?

Gary Pierce
Horticulture Agent
Harnett County Cooperative Extension
910-893-7530
http://www.harnett.org/coop/horticulture-programs.asp


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