In Bloom: November

In Bloom | October | DahliaThe Dahlia | Dahlia Pinnata 

 Dahlias play an essential role in the history and culture of many countries. The garden dahlia (dahlia pinnata) is Mexico’s national flower. In America, the dahlia is the official flower of San Francisco and Seattle. Known by gardeners as ‘Queen of the Autumn Garden’, these flowers bloom longer than most other garden plants. Their beauty and elegance are undeniable.

Dahlias are distinct in their own way, from the ball dahlias, pompon dahlias, cactus dahlias to the peony-flowered dahlias and star dahlias; there are 42 species and around 20,000 varieties worldwide.

The exact origin of the plant isn’t known, but it’s believed that it was named after the Swedish botanist Anders Dahl. Dahlias grew, and still grow, like weeds in the mountainous regions of Mexico, Central and South America, of which they are native flowers. 

Wild and cultivated dahlias were a food source for centuries by the Aztecs. Dahlia motifs decorated the helmets of the Aztec warriors, and the petals were used in ceremonies, including human sacrifice to their sun god. The Aztecs also used this plant for medicine as a treatment against epilepsy. They used a substance called Atlantic starch, derived from dahlias, and it was a renowned treatment for diabetes before the discovery of insulin.

Once worshipped and considered Montzuma’s favourite flower, the Aztec ruler’s estate was so enormous it was said to require a staff of 300 gardeners for his personal garden. He had miles and miles of terraced flower beds, which were ablaze with dahlias, marigolds, poinsettias, and frangipani. 

In the 1800s, the dahlia was favoured by Napoleon’s Empress Joséphine, who obtained them directly from botanical explorers in Mexico. There are two love stories about this flower; Empress Joséphine was said to have loved this flower so much that she planted the seed herself in an effort to keep their existence hidden away from the world. She wouldn’t share the seeds with anyone. This story had it that a Polish Prince hired someone to steal the flowers. Another story is that Empress Joséphine held the fanciful flower in such high regard that she made her gardeners swear (on the pain of death) to never reveal its existence. Their existence was kept a secret for years until one unfaithful servant gave the secret away. The flower was then introduced to France, and unsurprisingly, took Europe by storm.

Their first noble fan was Marie Antoinette, who fell in love with the hollow stem, and now a variety has been named after her. Dahlias became a favourite flower of Queen Victoria’s court. The beauty of the stem inspired great symbolic meaning to express personal sentiments of commitment, dignity, elegance, which is still associated with dahlias today. 

The significance and symbolism of these sumptuous blooms is positive. The most common is finding inner strength, standing up for what you believe in, creativity, kindness and grace. To others, they mean change or travel. These flowers make the perfect gift for yourself or someone you admire and love.

Sadly, these flowers aren’t pet friendly and are disagreeable to cats and dogs. Signs that they’ve been consumed include mild inflammation, constant scratching, upset tummy and fur loss. Keep these away from your companion if they have a habit of eating flowers. These beautiful blooms are close relatives to the sunflower and daisy, so instead of dahlias, consider these as an alternative in your home and garden.

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