Dahlia – Meaning and Symbolism

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From deep red to yellow and white, dahlias come in a dazzling array of colors, brightening up summer and fall gardens. Their exotic beauty and eclectic textures have captured the hearts of many brides and florists. Here’s a closer look into their significance and practical uses today.

About Dahlia

Dahlia flower

Dahlia, which is a genus of colorful flowers in the Asteraceae family, is native to Mexico and Central America. The flower was named after a Swedish botanist Andreas Dahl. In Eastern Europe, they’re also referred to as georginas, in honor of German botanist Johann Georgi. For centuries, Mexicans used the flower as food and medicine before it became known in Europe.

Dahlias have tuberous roots with a flower head that’s a composite, consisting of a central disk and surrounding ray florets. However, these blooms come in a variety of textures and shapes. Simpler types have rounded or pointed petals, while the pompom and ball dahlias have tightly rolled geometric flowers arranged in a spiral. These are really unique and eye-catching to look at. The cactus types have a spiky look due to its rolled petals, while the decorative types have broad, flat petals.

Most kinds of Dahlia’s reach around 4 to 5 feet in height, and range in size from small to gigantic flowers, commonly referred as dinner plate variety. They’re great garden plants if you’re in a region with moist, moderate climates, as they usually bloom from mid-summer through fall. Unfortunately, they won’t survive freezing temperatures, so they’re often dug up before winter months.

Meaning and Symbolism of Dahlias

Dahlias had a great significance during the Victorian era and remain meaningful in our times in expressing deep sentiments. They symbolize elegance, strength, eternal love, dignity, and diversity. But they also have some negative connotations, including dishonesty and betrayal.

  • “Forever Yours” – While many flowers are associated with love and romance, dahlias are a straightforward way to say, “I’m yours forever.” It’s believed that the Victorians used them to mark the strong commitment between lovers. No wonder, it’s a popular flower of choice in engagements, weddings and anniversaries.
  • Dignity and Resilience – Dahlias have the ability to withstand harsh conditions yet remain striking and elegant in appearance. In some contexts, it also conveys the idea of staying strong and graceful even in most challenging situations.
  • Diversity – These blooms come in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes, but all of them are beautiful and unique. No matter what kind you’d like, there’s a dahlia flower for every taste. In some cultures, they’re used to represent diversity.
  • Negative Meanings of Dahlia – In some contexts, the flower can also represent betrayal, instability and dishonesty, probably because of the old belief that they were used as an omen of betrayal or a warning of change. However, these meanings are more commonly associated with the so-called black dahlia, which has a burgundy color.
Dahlia flower symbolism

Uses of Dahlia Flower throughout History

Dahlias have been used in a variety of ways, including in medicine, gastronomy and superstition. They’re a versatile flower and offer many benefits.

In Medicine

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The Aztecs used the flower to treat rashes and skin infections. Before the discovery of insulin in 1923, the dahlia tubers were used as a sort of fruit sugar, called inulin, in some parts of Europe and America.

Nowadays, Mexicans still make poultices from crushed and warmed dahlia petals, especially from the D. imperialis, as a treatment for insect stings, sunburns, and sores. For soothing tired feet, they sometimes boil the petals and tubers and use them as a foot soak.

In Gastronomy

Do you know all dahlia varieties are edible? Its tubers are said to taste like carrots, celery, radish and potatoes. In British Columbia, the tubers are eaten by the Tunebo Indians, but in some cultures, the dahlia petals are used as a garnish for decorating desserts, cakes, and pastries.

In Mexico, the food preparation with these blooms varies from village to village, but a dahlia bread with sundried tomatoes is common. Also, there’s a cream cheese and dahlia dip, often served with french fries and melba toast. Dahlia tubers can be roasted and made into a drink, which serves as a coffee substitute.

As an Ornamental Flower

During the Conquest of Mexico in the 16th century, dahlias were discovered by Europeans in the garden of Aztecs. At first, it was introduced to Europe to be used for food, but Europeans found them unpalatable, so it was instead grown as an ornamental flower. In France, dahlias became popular when Empress Josephine, wife of Napoleon I, grew them in her garden at Malmaison.

In Arts and Literature

The Impressionist painter Claude Monet was inspired by dahlias, and his 1873 painting The Artist’s Garden in Argenteuil highlights dahlias in the landscape. It’s also believed that he had grown them in his own garden, and even exchanged different flower varieties with novelist Octave Mirbeau and painter Gustave Caillebotte. Also, the Little Dorrit dahlia variety was named after the 1857 novel by Charles Dickens.

As State and Territory Flowers

In 1963, the dahlia, particularly the D. pinnata, became the national flower of Mexico. In the U.S. it became the official flower of Seattle in 1913, as well as of San Francisco in 1926, representing the life and the spirit of the people in the city.

The Dahlia Flower in Use Today

Pompom dahlia
Pompom Dahlia

Dahlias are just some of the most beautiful flowers you should have in your garden. If you’re looking for a dramatic statement, think of dinner-plate dahlias as well as pompon varieties with geometric and colorful flowers.

Since dahlias come in many different colors and shape varieties, you can easily create a showstopping floral display with them. In weddings, they also serve as adorable cake toppers and aisle decorations, as well as being featured in bouquets and centerpieces.

When to Give Dahlia Flowers

In China, dahlias are traditionally given to elders to wish them a good fortune. With its symbolic meaning of “yours forever,” dahlia can be the perfect bouquet to give to your special someone on Valentine’s Day and even when proposing.

The dahlia is regarded as the 14th anniversary flower too and makes for a great gift for a celebrating couple. They’re also perfect to be given to someone you perceive as graceful and elegant.

In Brief

The exotic beauty and vibrant colors of dahlias make them a favorite in summer gardens. As a symbol of dignity and elegance, dahlias are the perfect bloom to celebrate love and marriage that lasts forever. Whether you’re looking for a glamorous or a meaningful gift, these flowers will surely make a lasting impression!