Monday, August 15, 2011

Mighty Fine and Dandy Dandelion

Mighty fine and dandy indeed is the tree dandelion of the genus Sonchus, rather than the common and often noxious weed Taraxacum officinale

A Cornish friend gave us a tiny seedling of the tree dandelion Sonchus canariensis last May. Not fully sure what to do with it, we planted it out anyway in a border that used to have a mature Phormium tenax in it (which got severely damaged last winter and consequently removed since then) to let it do it's own thing, hoping it would do well and make a good display in the summer, treating it as an annual.

Fighting it's way through other foliage plants
And a good display it is making now indeed, attracting attention and compliments from visitors whenever they wander around our middle patio area. It is turning out to be a truly beautiful foliage plant, with it's fern like leaves, size, and vigour in growth. And to think it's nowhere near it's potential maximum height yet, it is still relatively a small plant. With my fondness for this plant increasing, rather than treating it as an annual I'm intending on digging it up in the autumn and overwintering it inside our heated greenhouse.

Another tree dandelion that I like and used to grow is Sonchus fruticosus, with it's much bigger leaves and more lush appearance that looks great in a jungle style garden, or as a focal point of a summer border. We used one as an annual one year and let it get frosted to the ground in the winter. It never came back again of course and I expected that. But on milder locations in the UK (like coastal Cornwall, inner city London, etc) and during that recently bygone era of milder British winters this particular tree dandelion can sail through fine, going herbaceous and coming back from the roots in the spring at least, but grows fast enough to be of a decent sized specimen again in the summer. 

In exceptionally mild Tresco, this remains evergreen. Here's one we saw whilst visiting:

It is possible however to keep this in a pot permanently, going out on display for the summer and back in the greenhouse again for the winter. More likely you won't get huge growth treated this way, the restriction on the roots due to pot culture will stunt it's growth but at least you can keep it to a more manageable size. And if it does eventually get too leggy and unhealthy looking it is easy from seeds and cuttings and from there you can start again if you wish.

Hmmmm.., I might just do that next time I get hold of one again!

There are several tree dandelions out there. None are reliably hardy for nearly all parts of the UK, but most are fine overwintered under glass that is heated to at least a minimum temperature that doesn't go down below zero Celsius and remaining frost free all throughout. 

So if you want a unique annual to grow in your summer border in the future then this plant is worth considering. Or if your location is mild enough then grow it outdoors permanently, where it will become a bold, stately plant. And if you're lucky it might even self seed on your lawn ;-)



  1. I just happily acquired my own tree Sonchus a couple of weeks ago, it has a trunk but much smaller leaves than either of the ones you show. These are gorgeous and I'm afraid you've gone and caused me to want to hunt down a others!

  2. Well done Loree, I'm not surprised this group of plants appeals to you too :) I'm relatively new to the genus myself, having only tried the two I mentioned above. I wouldn't mind trying a few more but they are still relatively difficult to source here. Seeds are much easier to buy though so will hunt for some more in the next few months.

  3. What a lovely couple of plants, fantastic foliage. How large do they grow in a single year if sown from seed, any idea?

  4. I have never heard of Tree Dandelions before, but they both have neat looking foliage. I really like what you have.
    Cher Sunray Gardens
    Goldenray Yorkies

  5. Hi Janet, they do have fantastic foliage :) The S. canariensis was sown from seed earlier this year and was a tiny plant when it was given to us last May, about 6". It's over 3' now so the growth rate of this one is rather good. The other one was a small rooted cutting, about 6" too when planted out but reached 7' by the end of the season.

    If started in a heated greenhouse/propagator I reckon the seeds can be started at any time of the year, grown on in a pot until it's reasonably warm enough outside in late spring. I think it is a good substitute for other tall growing annuals like Ricinus, etc.

    Glad you liked them Cher :)

  6. Another plant I didn't know existed until I read about it on your blog! Thanks for contributing to my horticultural education!

  7. mmm very interesting and a completely new one to me, I will bare them in mind as annuals! thanks for sharing


Thank you for taking the time to reply to our post, we love reading comments and hearing your views.

Due to the increased level of spam, please note comments on older posts are moderated and only published after approval. All new comments are read and any spam is deleted.