Nothocalais cuspidata, native to Colorado and appearing at the right time for our native pollinators.
That’s right! This is a native dandelion, not a European import. Nothocalais cuspidata has many common names associated with it: Wavyeaf dandelion, Sharp point Dandelion, and Prairie false dandelion are among them. The good news is, once you wrap your mind around it, it’s not hard to use the one, real, scientific name: NO tho KAL is – KUS pi DAH ta. There. Not so bad, right? And it makes the plant so much prouder to hear it instead of being labeled a ‘false’ anything. Important to keep our plant friends happy.
At first glance the native dandlion looks a lot like the common yellow dandelion you see popping up everywhere, including lawns,Taraxacum officinale. But a closer look quickly reveals many differences. In the Flora of Colorado Ackerfield uses the common name ‘Prairie dandelion’ for Nothocalais cuspitdata, and describes the leaves as being ‘weakly crispate and ciliolate.’ Those leaves definitely grab the atttention. Crispate means curled, crinkly, or wavy, which they certainly are. Ciliolate means that the leaves of Prairie dandelion have a fringe of minute hairs, seen below. Where the common dandelion has serrrated leaves, Prairie dandelion has entire margins, the edges are not notched or toothed.
The leaves of Prairie dandelion attract attention in early spring.
Ciliolate, crispate leaves up close.
Unlike the common non-native which will fight for space, Prairie dandelion does not thrive in competition. It grows in the plains and outer foothills from 3800-7000 feet, in dry, rocky spots with gravelly soil, where they make use of deep and stout taproots to help them survive in their preferred full-sun spots. Flower stalks are leafless and produce a single flower, but each plant can produce multiple flowers. The prairie dandelion has only ray flowers, no disk flowers. One last interesting fact from the Flora: the Prairie dandelion is lactiferous. Oh yes: has milky sap!
The petaloid rays overlap in shades of yellow to gold.
Look for this beauty right now when you’re out on the trails.
Bracts also overlap but in a single layer with sharply pointed tip, hairless, and often spotted or striped with red.
Colorado Native Plant Society