Dahlias’ Infinite Variety


At the Gardens, you know we love our flowers, but dahlias? With their fierce following, colorful history, and bedazzling array of blooms, they’re the flower-lover’s flower. Even artist Claude Monet, who owed having become a painter to flowers, claimed that dahlias were his first true love.

Let dahlias capture your heart, too. Whether you’re a longtime dahlia gardener, or a flower-loving generalist, it’s definitely time to get lost in the dahlia’s infinite variety.

Wild dahlias may be unassuming; the pink or rose-flowered composites from Mexico and Central America would hardly merit a passing glance from most garden visitors. But from these simple origins come a bedazzling array of garden hybrids blooming in almost every color and shape, from micro-minis to 12-inch behemoths.   

Dahlia legends also abound. Some sources report that dahlia tubers were a key source of food and medicine for the Aztecs. Others that ancient civilizations used dahlias’ hollow stems for irrigation and water supply. Some even say that the dahlia was worshipped as Emperor Montezuma’s favorite flower. But while the Aztecs had more reliable sources of food and medicine and the jury is still out on Montezuma’s likes and dislikes, the dahlia was named Mexico’s national flower in 1963.

We also know that dahlias appeared in Spain in 1789. From there, its popularity spread quickly across Europe as it was hybridized into the double-flowering cultivars that gardeners love today. In fact, it seems that Empress Josephine (of Napoleon and Josephine) loved the flower so much that she made her gardeners swear on pain of death never to reveal its existence.

But you can’t keep a good bloom down and, one day, one of her gardeners stole away with the secret and word was out.

History aside, its diversity is what captures the hearts of dahlia devotees. With the possibility of almost every imaginable color, height, petal shape, numbers and rows of petals, diameter of flower head, and a whopping 42 recognized species and 57,000 varieties, there’s something for absolutely everyone.

Horticulturist and dahlia grower Courtney Locke says dahlias are “the apotheosis of the flower world.” With their eight sets of chromosomes, dahlias can adapt to a range of temperatures and manifest in almost any form and color (except true blue which, despite a £1,000 reward first offered in England in 1826, is a color yet to be achieved).

Intrigued? Ready to grow your own? This is your year! No matter your experience, whether longtime dahlia gardener or flower-loving generalist, join Courtney for her upcoming class and get lost in your own dahlias’ infinite variety.