Nineteenth Century Dahlia Mania Swept across England and America

It is fall and time to see dahlias blooming in all their glory.

One reason I love dahlias is that they flower here in the Northeast almost until Thanksgiving.

At one time dahlias took the world by storm and created in England what historians called ‘dahlia mania.’  That mania spread to America as well.

Kate Colquhoun writes in her book A Thing in Disguise: The Visonary Life of Joseph Paxton, ” ‘Dahlia Mania’ had swept through the English gardening community at the end of the first decade of the [nineteenth] century…Within ten years, it was being cultivated in most plant collections and by the 1830s, dahlia frenzy approached that for the tulip in the seventeenth century.”

Professor of Hoticulture Allan M. Armitage in his book Herbaceous Perennial Plants notes that the same dahlia mania struck early nineteenth century American gardeners as well. 

American Dahlia Society 100 years oldHere in the United States the American Dahlia Society celebrates it 100th birthday this year. That is some long time romance with a flower.

The seed and nursery companies of the nineteenth century of course sold dahlias.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) included a colored chromolithograph in the 1878 issue of the magazine he published called Vick’s Illustrated Monthly. [below]

Chromolithograph from Vick's Illustrated Monthly, February 1878

Chromolithograph from Vick’s Illustrated Monthly, February 1878

Vick writes in that issue of the magazine, “About one hundred years ago a Spanish botanist introduced seeds of the Dahlia [from Mexico] into his native country, and named the genus in honor of a Swedish botanist, Dahl.”

After a few decades of hybridizing, by the mid 1800s growers in England and America displayed dahlias at flower shows. Vick writes, “Dahlia exhibitions were held in England and on the Continent, which were crowded by enthusiastic admirers of this wonderful Mexican flower.”  American flower exhibitions sponsored by such groups as the Massachusetts Horticultural Society also displayed dahlias.

I have many fond memories of attending Dahlia Flower Shows both in Rhode Island and in Connecticut.

Vick summed up our fascination with the dahlia in these words, “A well-formed Dahlia is a wonder of perfection.”

Nineteenth century dahlia mania swept across England and America.

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