With un-mown lawns and pasture sprinkled with the cheerful yellow flowers of dandelions and other ‘flatweeds’ at this time of year it seemed a good time to investigate the various different species to find their names and characteristics.

There are four similar species, Catsear, Dandelion, Hawksbeard and Hawkbit.  All grow from a central crown, have similar yellow flowers, and longish leaves which have the dent-de-lion (lion’s tooth) edge indentations over their length.  But they have specific differences too.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) leaves are bright green, delicate in texture with a marked central rib filled with sap.  The leaf lobes are broader toward the tip tapering to nothing further down the stem, and the broad indentations diminish with the taper.  The flower measures 3-5cm across and is single at the end of a hollow, latex-filled stalk, and ripens to the familiar ‘dandelion clock’ of fluffy white seedheads.  Leaf length will vary according to where it is growing.  If the surrounding vegetation is tallish, leaves can grow to about 30cm, and the leaves generally grow upward, bending down slightly at the tip.  It will re-grow if any of the taproot is left in the ground.

Catsear (Hypochoeris redicata) is the hairy leaved flatweed which is the bane of all those who aspire to grassy lawns.  The many-toothed, lance shaped, dull green hairy leaves grow in a flattish rosette, with leaf length up to 20cm.  The underside of the leaves are bluish- green.   The single composite flowers (25-40mm across) form at the tip of long (up to 60cm), sparingly branched stems.  If the taproot is cut about 5cm below the surface the plant will not re-grow.

Hawksbeard (Crepis capillaris) is the one you find popping up through the leaves of a shrub which has weeds growing round its base.  The leaves are again lance shaped and multi-toothed, but thin and smooth – more like a narrow leaved dandelion. The flower stalks can grow quite tall and the much smaller flowers are held in loose clusters at the tip.  The difference from the other species is that single leaves grow at intervals up the stem.  When flowering, the plant is reasonable easy to pull out, complete with taproot.

Hawkbit (Leontodon taraxacoides) initially looks very like hawksbeard, although the leaves are hairy, rather than smooth.  However the flowers are larger (up to 3cm) and single on long unbranched stalks up to 50cm tall.

All grow everywhere in New Zealand, arriving originally mainly from Europe.

All these weeds may appear out of place in high production pasture. However where this is of less importance, and where a variety of animals are being grazed, all will be favoured by browsers such as donkeys, goats and sheep, and are also readily eaten by cows.  In summer I reserve half my large front lawn and leave it un-mown for periods, so that evening browsing by two donkeys and two goats can include tasty helpings of flatweeds and their ilk, obviously an appreciated addition to their diet.