Group of wild Dahlias flowers

Dahlias: Beautiful Inside and Out

Few flowers are as majestic and luxurious as the dahlia.

Standing several feet tall and boasting layers upon layers of beautiful flowers, this beloved garden cultivar is unmistakably gorgeous.

But the dahlia is more than just a pretty face–its rich history and innovative modern uses make it not only one of the most beautiful plants but also one of the most interesting. 

Three is a Magic Number

Dahlias were first discovered by a team of Spanish botanists, led by famous scientist Anders Dahl, in Mexico during the late 18th century. As the team continued to travel throughout Central America, they realized that the flower grew all over the continent, populating warm, sandy hillsides along with open fields, and recognized its potential to be a luxury good back in Europe. 

They sent a few tubers back to their home country, and the flower instantly became a sensation. But they didn’t look much like the dahlias you see in gardens today; most modern varieties are actually hybrids of the three that Dahl and his team initially sent back, Dahlia pinnata, Dahlia rosea and Dahlia coccinea. 

In fact, from the time of Dahl’s mission to the year 1936, these original three had been hybridized into 14,000 different cultivars, and over 50,000 varieties are named today. There are still 35 varieties indigenous to the Central American hills where they were first discovered, but the vast majority of those breeds are not recoverable due to the extremely specific temperature and weather conditions where they originated. 

Gentle Giants

Because of the mixing and matching that went into creating today’s dahlias, every variety looks strikingly different. Single ring dahlias sport one row of petals aligned neatly around a central disc, while cactus dahlias look like a spiky ball of sharp petals without a clearly defined center. There are even pompom dahlias, which are near-perfect spheres made up of tiny petals that turn inwards rather than poking out like the cactus variety. 

If you want to grow your own dahlias, it’s important to consider how each one of these varieties not only look different but also perform differently under various environments. Pompom dahlias require lots of sunlight and fertilizer, while cactus dahlias are the most resistant to harsh weather due to their uniquely defensive shape. 

No matter what variety you end up choosing, remember to keep up with the most important part of growing dahlias–staking. Most types of dahlias can grow up to several feet tall, making them prone to falling over and wilting without the proper support. Once your plants reach a foot tall, consider tying them to a stake to improve their stability, and repeat the process for each foot taller they grow.

Dahlias for Diabetics AND Doctors

The stunning flowers of the dahlia plant are incredible enough on their own, but it’s also important to remember just how excellent the roots are, too. Medically, eating dahlia roots has shown to be beneficial to diabetics, as they provide a lot of starch without any damaging sugar. Even if you don’t have diabetes, consuming more starch and less processed sugar still has health benefits, even if they are less measurable.

In addition to being healthy, chemical substances in dahlia roots are also used in several medical tests. Some doctors take zinc oxide out of dahlia roots to measure cholesterol in blood samples, while others use them in tests to analyze liver and kidney function. Dahlias also have the unique property of increasing appetite–chemicals from the petals help open up the cell-level “storage” in intestinal cells, making them useful for studies on appetite and weight loss. 

Whether you’re looking to learn a bit about the landscape of Mexico, manage your diabetes, or simply grow something beautiful in your garden, dahlias are an excellent start. With a diverse selection of cultivars, shapes, and sizes, the dahlia is a flower that’s perfect for any occasion.