this summer’s dahlias

I moved my one dahlia, the deep burgundy ‘Chat Noir,’ to my community garden plot this summer. Performance was…meh. By August the plant was finished. The soil at the CG still needs work if it’s to grow anything but zinnias and kale. Maybe next summer.

On the subject of next summer, a dahlia I’d be interested in trialing at the CG would be varieties of Dahlia coccinea. At the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens this past August, it wasn’t the carefully staked varieties in their exclusive dahlia show garden I was interested in, but the dahlia I found growing in a rambunctious tumble of sunflowers and artichokes against the fence in their vegetable garden. The leaves were fresh and healthy, the flowers abundant and proportionate to the plant. This dahlia calls to mind the flower the Spanish explorers would have seen blooming in Mexico in the 16th century. (“Spaniards reported finding the plants growing in Mexico in 1525, but the earliest known description is by Francisco Hernández, physician to Philip II, who was ordered to visit Mexico in 1570 to study the ‘natural products of that country.'”)

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Dahlia coccinea ‘Orange.’

From the Wikipedia entry on dahlias: “In 1787, the French botanist Nicolas-Joseph Thiéry de Menonville, sent to Mexico to steal the cochineal insect valued for its scarlet dye, reported the strangely beautiful flowers he had seen growing in a garden in Oaxaca. In 1789, Vicente Cervantes, Director of the Botanical Garden at Mexico City, sent “plant parts” to Abbe Antonio José Cavanilles, Director of the Royal Gardens of Madrid. Cavanilles flowered one plant that same year in his Icones plantarum, then the second one a year later. In 1791 he called the new growths “Dahlia” for Anders Dahl. The first plant was called Dahlia pinnata after its pinnate foliage; the second, Dahlia rosea for its rose-purple color. In 1796 Cavanilles flowered a third plant from the parts sent by Cervantes, which he named Dahlia coccinea for its scarlet color.” (my emphasis)

For more on that “cochineal insect,” read here.

Annie’s Annuals & Perennials carries a nice selection of Dahlia coccinea.

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3 Responses to this summer’s dahlias

  1. linda says:

    this could be a good one for growing from seed ?

  2. kathy says:

    You’ve hot the spot with me here Denise; I am doing some Dahlia revision this fall/winter myself. The mystic series has performed great for me , with the bonus of clean bronze foliage. Not every variety is as vigorous as the original ‘Mystic Illusion’ but all of them seem immune to the scourge of the damn cucumber beetle. I’m going with single flower varieties next year.

  3. Denise says:

    Linda, yes, from seed — I’m sure that’s how Annie starts hers. But if you want a specific color, like this orange, then you’ll have to start with tubers/plants.
    Kathy, granted SoCal isn’t Mendocino, but this coccinea looked much better than their named show dahlias, and Annie raves about coccinea too. Good enough for me.

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