Full-bodied and bright, dahlias are all about the drama. While you may think you’ve seen one dahlia, you’ve seen them all, the term ‘dahlia’ actually applies to 42 species and over two thousand sub-varieties and hybrids. From the exotic Firework dahlia, whose petals stand strong and stoic, to the Bitsy dahlia, whose inner petals cloak their center and softly extend outward layer after layer, the endless variations in size, color, and texture are mind-blowing.
Why so many blooms under one umbrella? It all began in 1789, when botanical explorers traveled to Mexico and collected dahlias from their native land. The original Mexican dahlia spread about 2 inches across with a single set of petals and a central disk or head, similar to a sunflower. The species was transported to Madrid, where horticultural growers discovered dahlias to be natural and eager hybridizers, and soon dahlias were readily adopting many different colors and sizes.
Excited by their adaptability, dahlias established a stylish cult following among gardeners and flower enthusiasts across Europe in the mid-1800’s, and hybridizers across the world have been experimenting with dahlia breeding ever since.
Despite achieving incredible range in size ( 1-inch to 1-foot wide!) and covering almost all manner of colors and patterns, hybridizers remain stumped by the dahlia’s staunch resistance to blue. Horticultural societies across Europe offered sizable cash prizes to anyone who could produce a true blue dahlia throughout the 1800’s, but there has yet to be evidence of a blue dahlia even today! While the reason behind this refusal remains a mystery, dahlia breeders continue to cultivate new varieties every year, hoping to unlock even more potential from these generous Mexican blooms.
The Victorians saw the dahlia as a symbol of commitment between lovers, friends, or family members. When given as a gift, dahlias were seen as an expression of dignity and elegance, a gesture of gratitude or admiration for a loved one who has performed a noble deed with grace. Today, dahlias have come to symbolize change, transition, or a departure from the norm, recalling the flower’s eager willingness to take on many forms.
From a design standpoint, dahlias’ full-bodied petals and proud posture make them a seductive and eye-catching addition to bouquets and centerpieces. Their strong, trusty petals make smaller varieties a great filler for bouquets that need a pop of playful texture, while larger dahlias naturally carry a wonderful festive air about them that’s impossible to repress.