My Dandelion Manifesto

Fellow iNatters,

I regret to inform you that not so long ago, despite our best efforts, we had collectively failed in our noble task to bring the full glory of identification to the world of dandelions. Just days ago, within the realm of the so-called United States, over 80,000 purported dandelion observations lay neglected; a wasteland of submissions screaming into the void, begging for confirmation of their existence.

And you know why! Identifiers have quivered with fear, knowing the uncertain taxonomic landscape, frozen with indecision. More certain and more tempting identifications always beckon, while lowly dandelion observations mount. Some identifiers have gamely toiled, but it has not been enough. Yes, 80,000 unconfirmed observations. More dandelion observations needing ID than total observations for any other US plant species, save the lovely Eastern Poison Ivy, magnificent American Pokeweed, and generally acknowledged Common Yarrow. And nevermind the misidentified species-level research-grade dandelions, which some sages suggest approach a 100% rate of misidentification! The taxonomic conversations shall continue, must continue, but in the interim should our beloved dandelions be forever bereft of the grade of research? Nay, nay I say! And my horses agree.

Thus, I am pleased to report that as of this hour, only approximately 79,500 purported dandelion observations remain without the grade of research. For hours I have labored. My position, shared by some, is that especially without seeing the seeds, it is usually (always?) impossible to assign a dandelion observation to species level, and thus, genus level is the best we can typically do. And so, for many dandelion observations initially ID’d to genus - yes, a few hundred of them - I have agreed with the wisdom of the initial observers, but also marked such observations “as good as it can be,” resulting in the blaring of trumpets and the designation of research grade.

Some may bicker with the process or the results, but I say our beloved dandelion should be treated with at least as much respect as the fair Burdock and Tamarisk genuses, and that if our taxonomic structures result in the inability to confirm the existence of 80,000 of the general public’s dandelions, then such structures have failed. I posit genus-level identification is best for most dandelions! My activities were met with limited feedback, which of course I have interpreted as much acclaim.

Good comrades, I made this sacrifice to bolster the strength of the iNaturalist Republic; long may it prosper. Fear no more, you may ID dandelions with abandon. Together we may bring to the masses the research-grade dandelions for which they have clamored so long! I ask that you join me; I ask for your mercy. May the ghosts of iNatters past forever bless our website; etc.

Here are the current statistics:
United States Verifiable Dandelions: 131,915
Total Research Grade: 52,452
RG, Common Dandelion: 44,558
RG, Red-seeded Dandelion: 1,559
RG, Genus Taraxacum: 6,136
RG, Section Taraxacum: 1,212
RG, Other: Whatever the math says
Total Needs ID: 79,463
Needs ID, Common Dandelion: 25,471
Needs ID, Red-seeded Dandelion: 5,967
Needs ID, Genus Taraxacum: 45,344
Needs ID, Section Taraxacum: 2,360
Needs ID, Other: Whatever the math says

(Good moderators; thank you for all the work you do - do whatever is necessary if this post is somehow inappropriate)!


I’m glad there is virtually no Dandelion in my area (Tropical Island). Except for the very rare specimens arising from imported potted plants or some smuggled seeds.
I’m thinking you can’t stop at Genus level if you want to achieve Research grade. and at the same time, you want to get it worked on.
In my limited study of these Asteraceae, Dandelion flowers do not have branches. It is one flower stalk with one flower. There can be multiple flowers on one plant. So with this, you can rule out some Youngia japonica , cat’s ear, Sonchus, chicory. Red dandelion looks interesting as a plant. I mean just red dandelion the variety.
The other day, someone commented that Dandelions are not native to USA. There is the common one from europe and Asia. There seems to be native ones in USA also. These plants are more complex than it seems.

Stated in wikipedia…" the taxonomy and nomenclatural situation of T. officinale is not yet fully resolved "

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T. officinale isn’t even in POWO, so I’m not sure why we’re still using it.


@jasonhernandez74 I believe your response to this call-to-arms would be invaluable!

I usually ID to genus or section. I don’t really know which is right to do? I’m sure I have older ones at species or some I might’ve accidentally put at species, too. I haven’t checked on my dandelion observations in a while. Maybe I can do that today. But I should know what to ID them as before I go and change them up too much.

And I should apologize too, because I’m the top observer for the genus. Not sure about section or species level but I’m sure I got a boatload of those, too.


Well, I know what I’m working on today!


There is a fieldguide about Dandelions
mm postponed again???

You’ve just self-identified as one of the sages who think nearly 100% of species-level research-grade dandelions are misidentified! I think it’s an unwillingness of anybody to sign off on such a large upheaval, combined with significant philosophical resistance to the sort of infinite micro-species POWO framework. Couple that with hardly any taxonomic research into North American dandelions, and thus the general inability to key beyond genus using the POWO framework (even to section), and the result has been inaction. I can’t fix those things, but by golly, I can confirm Needs ID dandelions to genus level, where almost all seemingly belong, and mark them “as good as it can be.” As should we all!


I hope and trust that this approach will not be taken with identifiable North American observations in other sections, like Taraxacum ceratophorum, which at least have usable macrospecies names available?


That’s an excellent point - Taraxacum ceratophorum (Horned Dandelion), Taraxacum alaskanum (Alaska Dandelion), and other regional/unusual species and/or sections should absolutely be left unmolested! Best I understand it, things work there! Of course, current United States research-grade, species-level dandelion observations look like the below, so that’s not too much of a practical issue, although rightfully quite important to the true dandelion connoisseur!

Common Dandelion: 44,567
Red-seeded Dandelion: 1,559
Horned Dandelion: 27
Alaska Dandelion: 26
California Dandelion: 8
All other species, none of which have more than 2: 15


Due to the broad taxonomic diagnosis of Taraxacum officinale, it is recommended to abandon the use of this name in favor of using the names of sections and individual small species - Taraxacum sect. Taraxacum.


@comradejon, we need to hear from you more often. Your description of us reluctant identifiers is spot-on!


So does anyone have some standard language, to explain to non-botanist types why we’re marking it to genus? I’m being lazy, and hoping I can crib from someone else. Otherwise I’l make some sort of comment that dandelion IDs are a hot mess taxonomically, and throw in a link.


Well, what a thing to come home to.

Thanks to earlier threads on Dandelions, we have been made aware of a paper on keying dandelions to section, at least in and near British Columbia:
I have been using this when I can. Of course, the further from British Columbia we get, the more likely we are to find other sections not covered. For instance, the author of that paper identified a photo I sent him as Section Mexicana (not in his BC key), saying, “The shallowly runcinate leaves with such a long taper to the apex, and with no clearly defined terminal lobe, and the small capitula are all distinctive.”

I don’t have a copypasta for this, but I would comment something to the effect that the name “Common Dandelion” encompasses many species that have been largely overlooked by North American floras. If the observation in question appears not to be even Section Taraxacum, I would instead comment that there are many species of dandelions besides Common Dandelion.


Here’s what I’ve used the last couple of days, when flipping “Needs ID” T. officinale or T. erythrospermum observations to Genus Taraxacum. It’s probably longer than ideal (and I’ve seen others make much shorter comments about it) but this gives the observer the big picture, and links to the best online conversations I’ve seen, so they can make up their own minds. So far, given the scope of the task at hand, I’ve only been flipping them where we can’t see the seeds (even though those surely need done, too), so if you’re going comment while flipping those, you’ll want to modify the language somewhat.

“Dandelion taxonomy is a mess right now (see, e.g., here, here, and here). Some North American flora guides say it’s sometimes possible to distinguish between T. officinale (Common Dandelion) and T. erythrospermum (Red-seeded Dandelion) based on leaves, but seemingly more say you need a close look at the seeds (not present here). Also, iNat uses Plants of the World Online for its taxonomy, which differs from typical North American flora guides, and it seems many/most botanists acknowledging the POWO framework don’t think hardly any dandelion in the USA can be accurately identified to species level based only upon pictures, and even if they can be, they’re not T. officinale or T. erythrospermum. Based on all that (and more!), I think the best we can do on this observation is Genus Taraxacum (Dandelions).”


Yikes! Who knew there are so many spp. of dandelions!? (Well, you did!)
I try to be careful about only identifying flowers to a genus level for species that can be hard to differentiate, but I have totally failed to recognize that there are more than just “Common” dandelions. Even with a shelf full of wildflower guidebooks, I never thought to look up dandelions… after all, they’re the first flower any child (in America) learns to recognize! I guess I’ve been blinded by a lifetime of dandelions being just so darn … common!
Thanks for the Manifesto.


comradejon So, if I am wanting to join in this revolution per se, then would the way to go about it be to only identify dandelions without any obvious photos of the seeds?

ps. I appreciate the comrade, manifesto, cry to the people thing you’ve got going on. Cheers to playing to a theme.

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@dysm - That’s an impressive number of dandelion observations you have! I think they generally should be ID’d to genus, rather than section. In no particular order, probably leaving out some important stuff, and just speaking in generalities (because there are always exceptions): (1) there’s no really viable key for U.S. dandelions, even to section, so for the most part, how can we credibly determine section? (2) there’s basically no research on U.S. dandelions, at least under the POWO rubric, and it seems folks anticipate additional sections and a gazillion species will eventually be added to the taxonomy, so how do we really know? (3) even the excellent paper referenced by jasonhernandez74, where describing some British Columbia sections, says a lot of those sections and species within those sections can be easily confused with other sections and species within other sections. And that was for ideally preserved/documented specimens, mostly collected in flower at the same time of year. Add in morphological changes across the year, general environmental effects, quality of iNaturalist observations - there’s just no way, I don’t think, that the vast majority of iNat observations can/should be assigned to a section.


thus is the consequence of the rampaging splitters, it isn’t currently possible to classify this important genus at all. They will continue until all of biology is like this, if people don’t push back more. It’s odd that iNat is so supportive of something that will essentially eventually kill it, among other things.