A flowering plant known as the dahlia may be the most varied and widely distributed species, even today. It is a plant that is semi-doubled, being a rare found form in all nature. The dahlia flower has been found in the arts and sciences for centuries, all over the world. It also has been known for the reported medicinal and spiritual properties, each being associated with dahlias of different varieties.
Early History of the Dahlia Flower
The earliest illustrated records of the dahlia by botanists were in Francisco Hernandez’ works, during royal expeditions by the New Spain in 1570 to 1577. Although these drawing might also include other plants of varieties, other than traditional dahlia specimens, still the information from these times is noteworthy. Because it shows the long term reputation that the dahlia has been afforded throughout all centuries.
The actual cultivation of dahlias begins in the lands that were explored and traveled to by explorers from the New Spain. As Europeans were expanding their horizons within the new world, a primary focus would be an analysis and gathering of unknown specimens of plants, animals and other life. Plants like the dahlia were one of the finds that Spanish explorers decided to bring back on their expeditions, which led to these flowers to propagate throughout much of the new world.
Aztecs and the Dahlia Flower
Yes, the dahlia is beautiful and a decorative addition to anyplace, the first cultivation of these plants begins much further back in history. All the way back to the Aztec culture of ancient Mexico, where the dahlia gets its mystique as a flowering plant.
The Aztec culture held reverence for magic, but also was a pagan society with traditional practices involving the seasonal cycles, planting and gathering of many plants. Their gardening practices were of particular sophistication, such that they marveled the troops of Cortes, when they arrived in Mexico. They had system based adaptations to the natural swamps around them, creating what were fields of flowers atop the wet lands. These unique gardening systems offered premium conditions for food production, all throughout the year. This was how they avoided starvation through bad weather and hotter environmental cycles.
It is noteworthy that dahlias were a plant used in construction of water transport, making them essential to Aztec gardening techniques. Hollow stems from dahlia plants were even used to transport the Aztec water supply, being used in systems of irrigation.
Over dependence on corn staples had caused the Aztecs to supplement their crop base with other plants. The dahlia, along with other plants like marigolds, zinnias and tithonias ranked highly among alternative harvest plants. Dahlia flowers were often used in the ceremonial decor of sacred and spiritual rituals, but unlike many other flowering plants, dahlias held no primary religious significance. Their importance was in offerings and being part of the larger Aztec culture, their significance being a life sustaining crop that kept the people fed and equally useful in ancient medicine.
Dahlias were made into textile material by working the fibrous parts of the plant. This material could be made into cloaks and blankets, because the dahlia was easy to weave into a variety of products. Every part of the plant could be used, without wasting any part. Thus it became a popular choice for textiles by the Aztecs culturally. The dahlia held multiple levels of importance with the Aztecs. As it served as a source of food, a provider needed to create medicine and as an inspirational source for their cultural myths. Some sources from the arrival of the Spanish indicate that the dahlia was a favorite flower of the Aztec leader, Montezuma.
Dahlia Flowers in Europe
As scientific studies of botany became focused on expanding plant knowledge over the next few centuries, dahlia flowers would be brought to Europe and becomes especially interesting to French academics. It was the French scholars of the 1700s that determined that dahlia tubers belonged to three primary species, based on those cultivated by Cavanilles at the time. At the time, a French book entitled ‘Notes on Dahlia Culture and on their Use in Garden Decoration’ became extremely popular. It was the first text to contain numerous color illustrations of these various species, so that they could be identified readily from the pictures.
Around 1799, the Empress Josephine made the dahlia sought after and promoted it to many botany experts of the times in France. Her royal gardens and residence were know for their many varieties of this import from their exploratory expeditions worldwide. It was designed to be reminiscent of the garden fountains at Versailles, but historical depictions portray it, as even more beautiful.Over time, the dahlia became the plant to import or migrate, as gardeners progressed across the boundaries of the new world. This brought these flowers across the globe, where they can be found in places like Georgia and Alabama within the United States today.
No culture hasn’t been exposed to the dahlia and it’s unique influence. As humans have explored and made their way across the world, it is a plant that continues to find new uses. For the purpose of gardening, it is a hearty stock that can be implemented into almost any environment, just requiring proper soil and planting methods, based on the individual conditions.
This sentiment for the dahlia has even been presented in words and song, such as the following prose by a sometime poet, Lord Holland :
The dahlia you brought to our isle
Your praises forever shall speak
‘Mid gardens as sweet as your smile
And colour as bright as your cheek
Thus use poetic words can’t hardly express the ways in which dahlia flowers are loved and still continue to be throughout human history. It would seem that dahlia flowers are continuing to be cultivated around the world, such as they always have been. From the Aztec culture, until modern times, few species of flowering plant have been so adored or been made an impact on humans. The dahlia plant will likely be here still, if human beings still inhabit the planet a thousand years from now.
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