Flowers of Summer: Dahlias

The National Flower of Mexico

The Mexican summertime brings the beautiful Dahlias out in their full majestic bloom. They may be the official national flower of Mexico since 1963, but their history spans much further than this.

In fact the first Dahlias were found and cultivated by the ancient Aztecs in the mountainous regions of Mexico, Central America and Colombia.

To the Aztecs however, these were more than just mere flowers. They found they were a good source of food, medicine (they used them to treat epilepsy) and as water carriers. The Dahlias hollow stem, tuber, which can grow up to 20 feet or more, was used to move and store water. These tubers became an important survival source for the Aztecs, particularly when they were out hunting.

It will come as no surprise then, that the original Aztec name for the Dahlia was ‘Acocotli’, which means water cane.

In Mexican culture the Dahlia is hugely important and is said to symbolize change, travel and new adventures. And with the Spanish conquistadors during the 16th Century, this they certainly did.

As well as conquering the Aztecs, the Spanish brought with them botanists, whose job it was to bring back plants from the New World to Spain.

When the botanists first took the Dahlia back to Spain, they began to grow the dahlias for their tubers. But instead of using them as water carriers they used them as a food source, something similar to a potato. But it wasn’t altogether that popular.

The cultivation of it as a flower continued and by the beginning of the 18th century, much hybridization work had happened with an array of forms and color combinations occurring.

In 1872 a crate of the dahlia tubers were sent from Mexico to Holland, of which only one tuber survived the Atlantic crossing. This lone tuber was a new variety, with red petals that were rolled back and pointed.  It reignited an interest in the dahlia by plant breeders and soon a multitude of dahlia variations took form.

This is a truly well travelled flower. So it should come as no surprise that it’s name ‘Dahlia’ originated from a Swedish botanist Dr. Anders Dahl.

Today there are around 20 different species of the Dahlia, all native of Mexico and Central America. The flower has one of the longest bloom seasons of any garden flower, giving wonderful color and vibrancy all through the summer months. So there’s really no surprise this should be the national flower of such a color-loving country as Mexico.

 

2017-08-26T19:51:24+00:00 June 14th, 2016|

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