Dahlia Meaning and Symbolism in the Language of Flowers

Standouts in the garden and stunning in a bouquet, dahlias have a rich symbolic history dating back to ancient Aztec civilizations. To the Victorians, these lovely ornamentals symbolized elegance, dignity, and a unique blend of strength and grace. The dahlia is also the national flower of Mexico and the official city flower of Seattle and San Francisco. Join me as I explore the famed dahlia’s rich meaning, symbolism, and cultural significance in the language of flowers.

A field of pink dahlia flowers in bloom

History and Origins

Dahlias, part of the Asteraceae family, are native to Mexico and South America.

Although the exact origin of the name is unclear, many believe it was named after Swedish botanist Anders Dahl by the director of the Royal Gardens in Madrid, Antonio José Cavanilles.

There were even earlier reports that Swedish taxonomist and botanist Carl Linnaeus named the plant, but many opposed the idea as he died before the genus Dahlia was ever named.

Dahlias are also known as the Valley Flower because the word “Dahl” is similar in sound to the Swedish equivalent of “Valley.” Moreover, other gardeners refer to these flowers as the “Queen of the Autumn Garden” because they bloom longer than many other garden plants.

Dahlia Flowers and Ancient Aztec Civilisations

These lovely blooms also have medicinal importance. The Aztecs, in particular, used this plant as a treatment against epilepsy. A substance called Atlantic starch, derived from the tubers of dahlias, was a renowned treatment for diabetes before the discovery of insulin.

The Aztecs used dahlia tubers as a food source. Like root vegetables, the tubers were harvested and eaten for their nutritional value. They were known to cook them or eat them raw, and they were considered a delicacy in the Aztec diet.

The Aztecs cultivated dahlias not only for their practical uses but also for their aesthetic appeal. They appreciated the beauty of dahlia flowers and included them in their gardens and floral arrangements. The diversity of colors and forms made dahlias a prized ornamental plant in Aztec horticulture.

Beyond their utility, dahlias held symbolic importance in Aztec culture. They were associated with the divine and were used in religious ceremonies and rituals. The variety and beauty of the dahlias mirrored the Aztecs’ appreciation for nature and its integration into their spiritual and daily life.

National Flower of Mexico

Mexico’s national flower is the dahlia. This designation stems from the flower’s rich history and cultural significance in the region. Native to Mexico and Central America, dahlias were cultivated for various purposes, including medicinal, food, and decorative uses.

The dahlia was declared the national flower of Mexico in 1963. The flower’s wide range of colors, sizes, and forms mirrors the vibrant and diverse nature of Mexico itself. Dahlias are unique in Mexican horticulture and aesthetics, celebrated for their stunning appearance and deep historical roots in the region.

Official Flower of Seattle

The official flower of Seattle is the dahlia. This designation was made in 1913, recognizing the flower’s popularity and significance in the city.

Dahlias thrive in the Seattle climate and are celebrated for their diverse forms, sizes, and vibrant colors, making them a favorite among gardeners and floral enthusiasts in the area.

The city even hosts dahlia shows and competitions, further cementing the flower’s status as an emblem of Seattle’s horticultural heritage and community spirit.

Official Flower of San Francisco

Interestingly, the official flower of San Francisco is also the dahlia!

San Francisco designated the dahlia as its official flower in 1926, a decision influenced by the flower’s resilience after the 1906 earthquake and fires. Dahlias were among the few flowers that bloomed abundantly in the aftermath of the disaster, symbolizing the city’s own resilience and recovery.

The city celebrates this connection with an annual Dahlia Dell in Golden Gate Park, where a variety of dahlia species are showcased, highlighting their beauty and the city’s enduring affection for this resilient flower.

Dahlias in the Victorian Language of Flowers

Dahlia is a diverse genus of flowering plants in the same family as sunflowers and asters. Because of this diversity, Dahlia’s meaning in the language of flowers is varied. Their significance to many cultures likewise gave rise to different symbolic meanings of these stunning blooms.

In floriography, dahlias held a place of intrigue and complexity. This form of communication, popular in the Victorian era, allowed individuals to express feelings and convey messages through the choice and arrangement of flowers, each carrying its own symbolic meaning.

Dahlias, with their myriad colors, sizes, and forms, symbolized elegance, dignity, and a unique blend of strength and grace. They were often used to convey a message of commitment and an everlasting bond, making them a fitting gesture between close friends or lovers to signify a lasting relationship or a union that stood the test of time.

The inclusion of dahlias in a Victorian bouquet would have added a layer of sophistication and depth, hinting at the complexity of the giver’s sentiments and the esteem in which the recipient was held.

August Birth Month Flowers

The tradition of birth flowers is thought to have originated in ancient Rome, where flowers were given as gifts to celebrate birthdays and other special events. Each month was associated with a particular flower, believed to hold specific characteristics or powers that would be imparted to people born in that month.

Dahlias are the official birth flower for August, although other traditions recognize them as the November birth month flower instead.

The ‘Black Dahlia’

The term “Black Dahlia” is most widely recognized in association with the infamous and unsolved murder case of Elizabeth Short in Los Angeles in 1947.

Elizabeth Short was posthumously nicknamed “The Black Dahlia” in media reports at the time, a name that has since become emblematic of the mystery surrounding her death. The moniker “Black Dahlia” is believed to have been derived from a film noir murder mystery titled “The Blue Dahlia,” released the year before her death, combined with Short’s rumored penchant for wearing black clothing.

The association with the murder case has linked the term “Black Dahlia” with connotations of mystery, tragedy, and the dark side of Hollywood glamour.

Dahlia Flower Colors and Their Meanings

In the language of flowers, the inherent meaning and symbolism of a particular plant can also vary based on the color of the flowers produced.

Red Dahlia Flowers

A single red dahlia flower in bloom

Red dahlia flowers are a known symbol of both strength and power. Because of that, you can give them to a sick or recovering friend as a get well soon gift. Red dahlias are also ideal gifting flowers for someone who’s about to embark on a new professional career or a new milestone in life.

White dahlia flowers in a vase arrangement

White Dahlia Flowers

Like other white flower meanings, white dahlias are associated with purity and innocence. They also symbolize staying focused.

This color of dahlia is the best gift for grandparents on their birthdays. You can also give white dahlias for celebrations of baptism or new birth.

Because of their color, white dahlias are frequently part of weddings and other ceremonies.

Pink Dahlia and Purple Dahlia Flowers

Pink Dahlia flowers growing in a garden

Pink and purple dahlia flowers are associated with kindness, service, feminine beauty, and grace. They make an excellent gift for mothers, sisters, friends, or co-workers, whether it’s Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, or birthday. They can also be a flower gift for your special someone, girlfriend, or wife for your anniversary.

Purple dahlias also symbolize royalty and dignity, which makes them the perfect gift for someone you appreciate and admire.

Blue Dahlia and Green Dahlia Flowers

Blue Dahlia flower in bloom

Blue and green dahlia flowers are go-to blooms for those making changes in their lives. They are a symbol of a fresh start and positive changes.

Give a bunch of blue and green dahlias to a friend who’s moving out, starting a new career, buying a house, or having a new baby to express your support and congratulations.

Black Dahlia Flowers

Black Dahlia flower in bloom

Black dahlias, which are actually dark burgundy, convey negative meanings compared to the other shades. Since they have the strongest hue of all dahlias, they often symbolize betrayal, sadness, and other negative emotions.

For more, see our in-depth guide to black flower types and their symbolism here.

Wrapping Up

The dahlia flower, with its stunning array of forms and hues, carries a rich tapestry of meanings and symbolism in the language of flowers. Celebrated for its beauty and diversity, the dahlia symbolizes elegance, inner strength, and each person’s unique individuality. Its wide range of colors allows for nuanced expressions of emotion, from the passionate reds to the serene whites, each shade adding depth to the flower’s symbolic meaning and cultural significance.

Further reading: Discover the 20 official types of dahlia flowers.

Editorial Director | andrew@petalrepublic.com | Full Bio

Andrew is the Editorial Director at Petal Republic. He holds a BSc degree in Plant Sciences and has trained professionally at leading floristry schools in London and Paris. In amongst overseeing a global editorial team, Andrew's a passionate content creator around all things flowers, floral design, gardening, and houseplants.

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