DAHLIA, a genus of herbaceous plants of the natural order Compositae, so called after Dr Dahl, a pupil of Linnaeus. The genus contains about nine species indigenous in the high sandy plains of Mexico. The dahlia was first introduced into Britain from Spain in 1789 by the marchioness of Bute. The species was probably D. variabilis, whence by far the majority of the forms now common have originated. The flowers, at the time of the first introduction of the plant, were single, with a yellow disk and dull scarlet rays; under cultivation since the beginning of the 1 9 th century in France and England, flowers of numerous brilliant hues have been produced. The flower has been modified also from a flat to a globular shape, and the arrangement of the florets has been rendered quite distinct in the ranunculus and anemone-like kinds. The ordinary natural height of the dahlia is about 7 or 8 ft., but one of the dwarf races grows to only 18 in. With changes in the flower, changes in the shape of the seed have been brought about by cultivation; varieties of the plant have been produced which require more moisture than others; and the period of flowering has been made considerably earlier. In 1808 dahlias were described as flowering from September to November, but some of the dwarf varieties at present grown are in full blossom in the middle of June.
The large number of varieties may be classed as under the following heads: (1) Single dahlias. These have been derived from D. coccinea; they have a disk of tubular florets surrounded by the large showy ray florets. (2) Show dahlias, large and double with flowers self-coloured or pale-coloured and edged or tipped with a darker colour. (3) Fancy dahlias, resembling the show but having the florets striped or tipped with a second tint. (4) Bouquet or Pompon dahlias, with much smaller double flowers of various colours. (5) Cactus dahlias, derived from D. Juarezi, a form which has given rise to a beautiful race with pointed starry flowers. (6) Paeony flowered dahlias, a new but not pretty race, with large floppy heads, broad florets and several disk florets in centre.
New varieties are procured from seed, which should be sown in pots or pans towards the end of March, and placed in a hotbed or propagating pit, the young plants being pricked off into pots or boxes, and gradually hardened off for planting out in June; they will flower the same season if the summer is a genial one. The older varieties are propagated by dividing the large tuberous roots, in doing which care must be taken to leave an eye to each portion of tuber, otherwise it will not grow. Rare varieties are sometimes grafted on the roots of others. The best and most general mode of propagation is by cuttings, to obtain which, the old tubers are placed in heat in February, and as the young shoots, which rise freely from them, attain the height of 3 in., they are taken off with a heel, and planted singly in small pots filled with fine sandy soil, and plunged in a moderate heat. They root speedily, and are then transferred to larger pots in light rich soil, and their growth encouraged until the planting-out season arrives, about the middle of June north of the Thames.
Dahlias succeed best in an open situation, and in rich deep loam, but there is scarcely any garden soil in which they will not thrive, if it is manured. For the production of fine show flowers the ground must be deeply trenched, and well manured annually. The branches as well as the blossoms require a considerable but judicious amount of thinning; they also need shading in some cases. The plants should be protected from cold winds, and when watered the whole of the foliage should be wetted. They may stand singly like common border flowers, but have the most imposing appearance when seen in masses arranged according to their height. Florists usually devote a plot of ground to them, and plant them in lines 5 to 10 ft. apart. This is done about the beginning of June, sheltering them if necessary from late frosts by inverted pots or in some other convenient way. Old roots often throw up a multitude of stems, which render thinning necessary. As the plants increase in height, they are furnished with strong stakes, to secure them from high winds. Dahlias flower on till they are interrupted by frost in autumn. The roots are then taken up, dried, and stored in a cellar, or some other place where they may be secure from frost and moisture. Earwigs are very destructive, eating out the young buds and florets. Small flower-pots half filled with dry moss and inverted on stakes placed among the branches, form a useful trap.
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