Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Dahlia Classification: Waterlily Dahlias are Wonderful

Miss Molly
In wedding bouquets or flower arrangements, in the formal garden or the informal border, waterlily dahlias are simply gorgous. Waterlily dahlia tubers are easy to grow, and the results are satisfying: elegant, symmetrical flowers in a luscious range of colors arrive in profusion in the late summer. Lynch Creek Farm customers buy dahlia bulbs of the waterlily type enthusiastically, and look for the blooms in summer bouquets at the Olympia Farmers Market. The farm sells lots of waterlily dahlias for wedding flowers as well.

waterlilies in a pondWaterlily dahlias resulted from some early crosses when the dahlia became popular in the first decades of the 1800s. One of the earliest named dahlia forms, the waterlily dahlia was recognized by continental growers in 1826 and classified in 1828 as "double camellia-flowered" formal decorative type, described as having six-inch blooms. However, the type wasn't received with much favor and waterlily dahlias were rarely grown outside of Germany until after 1880. In 1890, the first similar form of dahlia was discovered in the U.S., in a rural New Jersey garden. L. K. Peacock introduced in as a Nymphaea dahlia (Nymphaea is the scientific name of water lilies). In 1921, the Royal Horticultural Society's first Official Classification of Dahlias listed it as "camellia-flowered," describing it as fully double with petal edges arranged regularly.

Cherry Drop
Sometime later, the RHS and the American Dahlia Society both discontinued the "camellia-flowered" classification, and the dahlias so classified were merely considered formal decorative types until 1964, when the ADS listed "water lily" dahlias as a subtype of formal decoratives. In 1977, the form received recognition as a class by itself. The ADS described them as "fully double flowers characterized by large, broad and rather sparse ray florets which are straight or slightly incurved, giving the flower a flat appearance, the depth being no more than half the diameter of the flower head."

Pink Gingham
The waterlily dahlia flower is known for its luminous look, perhaps enhanced by the fact that the blossom is flatter than most double dahlias, so more light is caught by the cupped, translucent petals. It is represented in all 14 of the dahlia color classes. A nice example is Miss Molly, a 4-inch mauve-pink and yellow bicolor on a four-foot plant. Cherry Drop, a sweet little bright-red dahlia on a 3.5-foot plant, produces "a ton of blooms," according to the gang at Lynch Creek Farm. A bit larger is Pink Gingham, a bright pink bicolor with white tips on the florets. It grows to 4.5 feet and its blossoms are 4-6 inches across.

"The waterlily's popularity has waxed and waned over the years, as the recurved petals of the double dahlia become more, or less, attractive to growers than the flat, saucer-shaped waterlily petals," notes dahlia specialist Bill McClaren. "Recently the waterlily has become tremendously popular and much in demand as a cut flower for floral designs."

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