Newcomb’s for Beginners: Common Dandelion

Note: If you missed yesterday's Intro, you'll want to check that out first.

Especially when learning how to use Newcomb's Wildflower Guide, I recommend practicing the method with plants that you already know. Using Common Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) as our first example, let's see how efficiently we confirm the plant's identity.

The flower is radially symmetrical and has 7 or more regular parts (code 7--). This is not a shrub or vine, but rather a wildflower with basal leaves only (code 72-). Finally, the leaves are divided (code 724).

Taking our code to the Locator Key, we find that we are close to naming our plant. The key asks if the flowers of our plant are Yellow (yes), or White, Pink, or Blue (no). Since the flowers are yellow, we have one more question: are the leaves 2 or more times longer than wide, or are the leaves about as wide as long?

Photo of Common Dandelion leaf

Choosing the former, we are sent to page 362 of the guide, which contains various members of the Composite or Aster family.

The written descriptions are such that on any given page, each species can be separated by the first line of text alone. The first line of Dandelions (Taraxacum) matches, and the guide goes on to describe two types: Common and Red-seeded. Consulting the illustrations, the leaves of our plant appear to solidly match with Common DandelionNot too tricky, right?

By engaging in a simple process of elimination, we've determined the identity of a mystery (or in this case, well-known) plant (and we've learned that there is a Red-seeded Dandelion -- who knew?).  Once you can identify known plants reliably with this guide, you can then use it (in conjunction with other guides or knowledgeable teachers) to figure out unfamiliar plants.  In the coming weeks, I'll post more examples of this powerful method of plant identification.

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