could dandelions be the key to sustainable rubber?

Could Dandelions Be the Key to Sustainable Rubber?

Dandelions have long since been viewed as a scourge by North American and European countries. The ubiquitous weed grows everywhere easily, and is often a nuisance in home gardens and fields of more valuable crops. That could all change.

During World War II, the dandelion was actually cultivated and used by Soviets to help them be more self suffucient during the war. Other countries also pursued dandelion rubber to help them get through the war, but afterwards the cheaper rubber sourced from South American rubber trees reduced interest in dandelion rubber.

Today, dandelion rubber is gaining new interest for a different reason–our swiftly warming planet. Although rubber trees are a natural source of rubber, they come at a cost. Rain forests are being cut down to make way for rubber tree plantations, and climate change itself is causing diseases and other problems with the rubber trees themselves.

That’s why Ohio State University is currently working to grow dandelions alongside other researchers around the world. Their focus is on a specific species of Dandelion–Taraxacum kok-saghyz. This species produces more latex than the species you might find in your front lawn.

They’re currently working on breeding a strain that both enhances the rubber quality of the dandelion, and makes cross breeding with other species more difficult. Right now, it would be difficult to farm crops of Taraxacum kok-saghyz when the North American species, Taraxacum officinale, might make the next generation less productive.

Other methods of growing rubber producing dandelions include indoor hydroponic farms. This keeps other species out, while producing very clean rubber.

No easy course forward

While interest in dandelion rubber is growing, there are still problems surrounding it. Apart from the need to create better species of industrial plants, it’s also going to be hard to get a foothold in the market for rubber. Rubber from rubber trees are cheap, and already have market share.

Other considerations are the people farming the rubber themselves. Even if countries around the world shifted to more local rubber options, it won’t stop deforesation by itself. Farmers in South America still need to make a living, and if there isn’t enough local interest in tree rubber, they’ll plant bananas or palm oil plantations instead.

To truly make dandelion rubber sustainable, a lot of steps need to be made to create a strong future.

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