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Dandelions. Photo: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/30618368@N00/2445566078/">Ard Meerveld</a>, CC <A href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/deed.en">some rights reserved</a>
Dandelions. Photo: Ard Meerveld, CC some rights reserved

Natural Selections: Dandelions

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Martha Foley mows her lawn just before the dandelions go to seed, hoping to keep their numbers down, but there's another whole crop right behind--why? Dr. Curt Stager dug into the story and found the answer in the sex life--or lack thereof--of dandelions.

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For homeowners, managing these pesky weeds is a serious task. According to Dr. Curt Stager, dandelions keep returning because there are two common species of dandelion thriving locally, one a conventional sexual flower species, and one which is adapted to be asexual and can thrive without pollination. All members of that species are identical genetic clones.

While they look almost the same, the two different species propagate on different schedules. The more traditional sexual species of dandelion relies on cross-pollination to regenerate from one generation to the next and so has a more regular pattern of sprouting and flowering. The asexual variety is not as tied to schedule. Plus it is a little hardier, grows larger, and is more resistant to shade and cold. This survival advantage may offset the extra energy it uses in producing sexual structures that it does not require.

Due to this variance in schedules, one or the other of the two species may bloom and seed at any time during the growing season. Much to the frustration of homeowners trying to maintain a lush green lawn.

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