[Named after Andrew Dahl, a Swedish botanist and pupil of Linnaeus.]
There is fashion among amateurs of the floral kingdom, as well as in matters of dress, and style of living among those who lead in fashionable circles of society. Thus, when a new flower of fancied merit is introduced, it becomes all the rage, for the time being. It is admired, extolled, sold at extravagant prices, cultivated, improved, and disseminated among the multitude. The leaders in floral novelties have seen it in its highest state of perfection; it is no longer a novelty; they are satiated, and it is discarded for some new favorite, to be in its turn set up and adored as the Ne plus ultra of all that is lovely and desirable. One of this class, that has had its day, is the Dahlia, which must now stand in the back ground, and give precedence to the lovely Verbena and the gorgeous Gladiolus. In the first edition of the "Book of Flowers," I confess I was rather too severe upon the Dahlia; I have been criticized and censured by some friends, for the manner in which this once fashionable flower was disparaged. There was, however, some reason why a little ill-feeling should be expressed, when speaking of a flower that had given me more than usual vexation and disappointment, besides that of the ill success which, in some seasons, I had experienced in its cultivation. I am almost ashamed to speak of my folly, in a transaction which took place a quarter of a century ago, in connection with this flower, from which the reader may well imagine the reason why I should have manifested a little spite in my description of it. A proposition was made to me by a celebrated and wealthy florist, to join him in importing from England an invoice of, choice, new, high-priced seedling Dahlias, with the understanding, that I was to, pay one-quarter' of the expense, and receive as my share one plant each of all the varieties thus obtained. So we sat down and looked over some florists' catalogues of new Dahlias, in which was attached to each variety a glowing description of its peculiar merits and beauty, with its price, which by the way was anything but moderate. But they were new and fashionable, and must be obtained, notwithstanding the high prices. So a list was made out of such varieties as were supposed to be the finest. As one to ten guineas a plant was considered rather extravagant, a few only of this class were ordered; but some latitude was given to the florist, which he took advantage of, and to our surprise, the bill footed up over eight hundred dollars, where it was expected one-quarter of that sum would cover the expense. But we were in for it, and must make the best of it, and I consoled myself with the thought of the pleasure that would be derived in watching the opening of these gorgeous new varieties. One plant each was received, according to agreement, about the middle of June, raised from cuttings taken from the small tubers; but they were so weak and attenuated, and the season being unfavorable, they proved a perfect failure, and not a single blossom from the whole rewarded me for the expense, trouble, and vexation which I experienced. It is said of a certain Souths ern Senator, who was violently opposed to the old tariff, and of course to manufacturers of cloth, and to the animal that produced the raw material, so bitter were his feelings, that he remarked in one of his speeches, that "he would go any time a mile out of the way to kick a sheep." I have no such feeling of hatred and spite against the innocent Dahlias, but when I think of these past experiences with it, it produces feelings somewhat akin to those of the statesman as expressed in his speech. However, I will give no more kicks at this flower, but somewhat modify my original article on the Dahlia, and present it in the following shape:-
"In queenly elegance the Dahlia stands, And waves her coronet."
This flower is so capricious in its flowering, so subject to the ravages of insects, so much influenced by too much heat, too much dryness, or too much wet; and then, just as it begins to give promise of abundant bloom, having escaped all the casualties of the season, is cut down by the frost as it is beginning to give promise of flower, that after so many disappointed hopes, I have sometimes been disposed to say I would not try it again. It must be confessed, however, it is on some accounts desirable; the flowers are large, showy, gorgeous in color, sporting into every tint except blue. The shape, too, is perfect, although a little too set and prim, as though it was made for the occasion. The habit of the plant is coarse, and the smell repulsive; but, with all its failings, it is or has been a popular flower, and will continue to find favor with many.
It was first introduced into England in the year 1789, was but little noticed, and soon lost. It was re-introduced from Mexico in 1804, as a single purple flower of not much interest. It is only within the last 40 years that it has received the attention of the florist. From the single purple and scarlet flowers, all the numerous varieties of florists' flowers have been produced; a striking example of what may be done by patient perseverance and skill in the improvement of a flower from its native simplicity. Continental botanists call the genus Georgina. It is found in sandy meadows in Mexico, and till the peace of 1814, was more cultivated in France than in England. It was not introduced into this country until about 1825. D. variabilis is the species from which the innumerable florists varieties have been produced, though there are several other species to be found in European collections.
The root is tuberous and tender. Freezing destroys it at once; it can, therefore, be planted only in the spring.