Sunday, October 28, 2012

What I Love About Dahlias

Here it is, almost November. Among the various tawny shades of ochre and russet is a sprightly tone of pinkish red. Though beautiful in any season the perfect petals of the October dahlia seem especially so now, when the rest of the garden is marching steadily toward senescence, that is to say, death and dying. 

 But what I love most about dahlias is not their conspicuous spring-like colors—it is that their centers are almost always alive. 

Literally, alive. 

Oblivious to cold winds and camera lenses, a bumblebee will bed down in the soft golden heart, staking his claim. You may see an occasional slight movement of his hairy legs, and if you could catch sight of his tongue (also hairy), it might also be in motion. But from a casual observer’s point of view he looks content, sleepy, drugged even. There is no hurry at all to get back home; it is not his job to bring back supplies. In fact, he might very well spend the night clinging to the center of a dahlia blossom. Oh, he may be mildly concerned with dabbing a bit of his scent here and there, but that is early morning work. Afternoons and evenings are for hanging out with friends. 

Like a grasshopper with a taste for pink petals. 

The two seem at peace with the fact that their interests are separate and non-conflicting. I’ll take the petals, you take the pollen. If one or the other gets too close for comfort, each simply adjusts his position. 

And carries on.

October bumblebees are so much more laid back than August bumblebees. This has mostly to do with sex. Males are born only after the colony dwindles, late in the season. Most of the busy female workers are dead by this time, and the point of the activities (or lack thereof) is less about the survival of the hive and more about the survival of the species. All the Johnny-come-latelies need to do is eat, and mate. 

A short time after male bumblebees make their appearance the new queens emerge—the progenitors, the rulers of the hives of the future, the heroes of orchard owners everywhere. A queen will fly to where a male has left his scent, and wait. Presumably, she’s an early riser. 

Because by mid-morning, at least in my garden, the men show no interest in doing anything but luxuriating in dahlia pollen.


  1. Dahlias are one of my favorite flowers, usually plant them every year. In fall, when hot sun and bugs are no more, their blooms become perfect. great cut flower, except I wish the stems were longer. Love that when you dig them up in the fall, their tubers are so big that you can split them to get two or more tubers for the following year. You buy the tubers originally and then you never have to buy another one again. But don't let the tubers get frozen or they are destroyed.

  2. My dahlia tubers almost always dry out over the winter (what I DON'T love about dahlias). But I will try again. And again.