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Although now widely-grown in North America, dahlias are native to Mexico and other parts of Central America. They appear to have been grown as a source of food for the Aztec Indians (dahlia tubers are similar to sweet potatoes in some respects) but this practice appears to have been abandoned by the early 1600s.
Dahlias are traditionally a perennial plant with tuberous roots. And because they have no scent, they attract pollinating insects through bold, bright colors. They have been widely hybridized and are now available in an astonishing array of colors, sizes and forms.
With modest care - including warm soil, sunny skies and adequate water - they grow and flower profusely, blooming from early summer until they are exposed to a killing frost. Dahlia blooms are often considered to be among the most beautiful of all flowers and they are a critical element in many wedding bouquets and other floral arrangements.
And unlike many flowers such as peonies and single-stem sunflowers, dahlias love to have their fresh flowers removed for your use - - the more you cut, the more flowers dahlias will grow!
Aside from the tremendous assortment of dahlia varieties a gardener can grow, these delightful plants offer another significant benefit: while each plant grows from a single tuber, they produce a clump of new tubers during the growing season and can be 'divided' into several (often 3-15) new tubers for the next growing season.
As a result, a (very) committed gardener starting with a single tuber could find him- or herself with as many as a thousand tubers of that dahlia variety within a few years.
Dahlias do have two small downsides: they have a relatively short vase life (often just 3-5 days depending on harvesting and storage conditions) and growers in cold climates will need to protect the plant's tuber system from sub-freezing temperatures during the winter.
But for determined dahlia fanatics, the advantages of dahlias far outweigh the challenges. There are well over 10,000 different varieties of dahlias (a number which grows each year) and at least 2,700 varieties are currently offered for sale. The possibilities for your garden are nearly endless...