Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Escape of the Potato Dandelions

This is the site where once stood a small outbuilding filled with precious possessions.  Fire consumed the wooden structure and left behind a pile of junk.  Previous tenants found this to be an ideal place to deposit additional junk.  Every spring I take some time to comb through the junk pile soil and remove all manner of glass, metal and plastic artifacts.  No matter how much I collect, winter frost heave of the soil brings an entirely new batch to the surface.  I’ve done a good job of clearing the outlying area, but the ground that was once beneath the shed floor seems to be more junk than soil.  It’ll be a few years before this task is completed.

These tubers came to light as I pulled a short length of thin aluminum wire from the ground.  There’s no mistaking Potato Dandelion, Krigia dandelion, especially when there are some leaves attached to the tubers. 

I have to admit that the Potato Dandelion tubers are the most valuable item I’ve ever pulled up in this location.  The question is why this state threatened species was growing in this particular spot.

Here’s where it should have been, growing with its fellow Krigias in the designated pot.  I’m not surprised to find it thriving away from its pot.  Potato Dandelion is an exceptionally vigorous grower and can quickly spread out to fill any sized opening.  Except for two things: 1. It competes very poorly with other plants and loses out in crowded growing conditions; and 2. Every animal in the world that eats plants will eat Potato Dandelions and they will continue eating until every leaf, root and tuber is consumed.

Potato Dandelions grow so well in the pot because I have used screen and a woven wire lid to keep the animals out.  The screen was added two years ago when Chipmunks squeezed through the woven wire and ran off with 95% of my tubers.

Apparently, some of the stolen tubers were cached in the junk pile soil and at least one survived the Chipmunk’s appetite long enough to establish a small colony.  They have now been returned to a safe pot environment.  The Blue Jay Barrens patch of Potato Dandelions, from which came my pot bound population, rarely produces flowers and never produces viable seed.  I’m surprised that it persists and even more surprised that, through vegetative means, it continues to expand.  I suspect that the species originally arrived here by way of a tuber, possibly carried in the tread of logging equipment.  Then I begin wondering where the source was.  The entire population may be a mass of clones originating from a single tuber, or seed.  I will probably never be sure.

A couple of rainy days and the newly planted Potato Dandelions have settled in and are actively growing.  If I keep at it long enough, I may unravel some of the mysteries associated with this neat little plant.


  1. I wonder why the ones on the ridge haven't been gobbled up? Do you have a picture posted of the wild trout lily-looking purple ones?

  2. Hi Katie. I've often wondered the same thing. When I try to establish a population in another location the plants disappear within a couple of years.

    Early season leaves poking from the leaf litter in the woods have a purple coloration that closely resembles young Trout Lily leaves. Sorry, I don't have any pictures posted showing young leaves in the woods. Picture 5 above shows some leaves displaying the purple color.