DAHLIAS – PLEASANT MESSENGERS OF AUTUMN


Cool winds by now signalize the approaching autumn, so bloom dahlias, night frosts will hence come round in a short while and chase away you again.


Like many other flowers dahlias originate in Meso-America. Martin Kral writes in his well-researched paper Of Dahlia Myths and Aztec Mythology: The Dahlia in History that Aimè Bonpland and Alexander von Humboldt saw dahlias growing all around them as they traveled through all Latin America. But the first recorded picture of dahlias was designed by the native Mixtecs in Mexico in the 14th century which shows a Mixtec woman using dahlias in the form of headbands as a part of matrimony (see graphic hereunder). Other daily or ritual uses  of dahlias by the Mixtec and/or Aztec culture are so far not known because only few documents survived the Spanish Conquista in the 16th century.

Mixtec woman with dahlias, Oaxaca, Mexico, 14th century

Mixtec Palace of the Columns, Oaxaca, Mexico

In 1529 Friar Bernardino de Sahagún arrived in Mexico and would later write the first Western account of the dahlias. But only in 1790 the first seeds were sent from Mexico to botanical specialists in Madrid who did successfully raise the first plants in Europe shortly thereafter in 1791. During that period the species’ name dahlias was subsequently created in order to honour the Swedish botanist Andre Dahl.

Humboldt and Bonpland at Chimborazo volcano /  Friedrich G. Weitsch, 1806

During their famous trip leading to South and Central America (1799 – 1804) Alexander von Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland did a vast research on plants and nature in general. When returning home to Europe in 1804  Alexander von Humboldt brought seeds of Dahlia coccinea to Berlin while it is assumed that Aimé Bonpland had presented Dahlia seeds to French Empress Josephine for her large collection of plants. In 1805 seeds are successfully germinated and also flowered in Germany and as well in England while in 1818 the first exhibiting of dahlias took place in Scotland.

Early botanical drawing, German newspaper, 1804

Claude Monet, The Garden at Argenteuil (The Dahlias), 1872

In the 19th century dahlias had spread over all Europe, there existed for example the Czech Dahlia Society, and besides it is also known that Johann Wolfgang von Goethe raised dahlias in his private garden, while in England the illustrious Lady Holland increased the popularity of these flowers. A real center of European dahlia culture became the small Thuringian town Bad Köstritz, where the commercial raise of dahlias was established by Christian Deegen in 1824 and with great success is existing till today.

Thousands of different dahlias are today to be found, but these hybrides are often much different compared to the wild plants still to be seen in Meso-America. The best overview on this subject offer dahlia gardens which may be visited in late summer at diverse locations in Europe like Milnthorpe in England, Gera in Germany or La Source in France and elsewhere of course.

All flower photos made at dahlia garden of Hamburg, Sept. 2018

Flower of the Day – September 19, 2018 – Delphinium

5 thoughts on “DAHLIAS – PLEASANT MESSENGERS OF AUTUMN

    • Well my history was not complete because by a comment I have learned that they are also to be found nowadays in India, introduction to the USA most probably in early 20th century. But you will find in general more poetry, stories or art about roses which are more widespread for a long time.

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