The dahlia is native to the uplands of Central America, and was brought to Europe by returning explorers; it remains the national flower of Mexico. At first, Europeans thought of the dahlia as rather a simple flower, even a little plain, until the late 18th Century when the Europeans learned how to cultivate and hybridize the plant, producing many of the wide variety of sizes and large number of colors we find the dahlia available in today.
Before then, dahlia tubers were the most useful part of the plant, being used not only for food (rather like a potato), but also for medicine, with fructose being extracted for use by diabetics, in pre-insulin days. Further back in time, the Aztecs used the tubers to treat epilepsy; and looking forward, the Chinese have selected the dahlia tuber as one of the few dozen herbs which they’ll use to treat the HIV virus.
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Once the flower became popular in Europe it was renamed after Andreas Dahl, a pupil and friend of the great Swedish botanist and plant classifier, Carl Linnaeus. Today, a variety of shapes and sizes are available, in warm colors from red, orange, yellow and pink to white; more are being added, thanks to the many organizations and events dedicated to enjoyment and further hybridization and development of the dahlia.
When you give a bouquet or arrangement including dahlias, you could also add flowers that compliment their shape – perhaps slender flowers, or flowers of contrasting color. The complimentary flower you choose can also moderate or modify the message you’re sending by selecting dahlias. This is because the dahlia carries many messages, including gratitude, dignity, pomp, instability and misrepresentation (even betrayal.) You may not want the recipient to hear they they’re unstable or untrustworthy, so add another flower, and make the message clear on the card you attach. In addition, some also give the flower the meaning “I am forever yours,” which is much more acceptable. In Japan the dahlia carries the meaning “in good taste.” And the dahlia is, always, in good taste.