Dahlias have a rich and symbolic history, beginning in Mexico. The ancient Aztecs grew these beautiful flowers for ceremonial decor as well as food, and the species is native to Mexico and South and Central America. The species was first “discovered” by botanists in the 1600s, when naturalist Francisco Hernandez de Toledo visited Mexico on behest of the King of Spain. He wrote of the beautifully colored flowers in his book, Medicinal Plants of New Spain. Some 100 years later, seeds from the botanical gardens of Mexico City were sent to the Madrid, where the Dahlia officially got its name (it has, however, been known as the “Georgia” flower up until the past century.
Dahlia proved difficult to grow in different regions– seeds sent to England failed and were lost, and an entire box of roots were sent to the Netherlands with only one Scarlet red plant surviving. From that plant, Dutch nursery workers cross-bred the plant, and their cross-breeding cutivated the common dahlia we love today.
Dahlias have a variety of types as classified by the American Dahlia Society, which range in colors, class, form and shape. There are many, so I invite you to explore them all, but I’ll just talk about a few that I find the most lovely and interesting.
The Anemone type, as pictured below, is most often only found in gardens:
The Ball, mini-ball, and pompom Type Dahlia is one of the most common varietals available in the floral marketplace. They look adorable as buttonholes:
Cactus type dahlia have crazy beautiful flowers, with a more unstructured and wild appearance:
Collarette are another often-garden grown variety, with small, structured blossoms that are lovely:
The Formal Decorative type is the one you’ve probably most commonly seen in bouquets and wedding flowers, next to dinner plate style dahlias:
The “informal decorative” are another gorgeous often-used in event dahlia:
More and more, we have been seeing lacinated style dahlia available in the marketplace– these are super unique:
The peony dahlia is another good one for bouquets and centerpieces:
And the water-lily type dahlia are gorgeous– and unsurprisingly, great to float:
Dahlia’s will generally appear in May as smaller flowers and will stretch until the last weeks of September and early October. Occasionally, we’ll see these flowering beauties later in the season, but the best color varieties and flowers are accessable from mid-June until late August.
As a cut flower, dahlias only last for 4-5 days at best. They require a lot of water in a clean, steralized vase. Their stems are hollow, which means it’s easy to clog them with bacteria if the water is not clean. It’s best to change out their water daily. They’ll usually last longer if you can use them in a floating vase– because then they are able to take in as much water as possible, and don’t have to waste energy getting water to their abundant foliage.