DAHLIA 'War of the Roses'

This is a rare and very beautiful dahlia whose origins in history have been lost centuries ago. As well as being somewhat unique in appearance, it is a cultivar that most dahlia experts have never heard of, while for others it's a genetic conundrum that shouldn't really exist.

Luckily there is one story that can give us a clue about its history and despite its very English sounding name it's cultivated 'roots' appear to have come from France.

The story dates back to the 1850's when, after their wealthy parents died, the five remaining brothers and sisters inherited a French Chateau. After a number of heated arguments they were unable to agree as to who should occupy it and subsequently it remained empty, then became derelict and the once fabulous garden deteriorated into an unkempt wilderness. Without proper maintenance, many of the precious ornamental plants became either overgrown or died due to lack of proper care - except for one. A lone Dahlia which managed to survive and flourish amongst the borders. Unfortunately the original French name appears to be lost, although it may sometimes be known as Dahlia 'York and Lancaster'.

For a Dahlia it is surprisingly tough, almost hardy in light soils. Standing approximately 2'6'' tall it produces large amounts of ball shaped flower heads. If it does throw up an occasional pure white flower it will always be followed by a brilliant white and carmine red bi-colour flower.

The French connection is certainly something that I can confirm. The first time that I encountered this stunning variety it was growing just off a verge in Saint-Junien, Limoge, a rural hamlet somewhere in the middle of France. I will confess that, for a time, I stood looking at it with a confused expression on my face as I had never before seen a dahlia like it.

I would advise anyone wishing to purchase one to grab the first specimen they come across with both hands because the word 'rarity' is an understatement.

Further research into this variety has returned the following:

From Dr Virginia Walbot - Stanford University, USA

Hello. I've never seen anything quite like these either. As you probably know, "patterned" varieties are relatively regular (like your flowers with a red base and white majority). Some of the these are light dependent -- when the bud is just beginning to open the outer petals receive light and darken, while the center (later opening part of the flower) receives little or no light and remains colorless or pale. It would be very unusual to have such crisp boundaries as the flowers you saw.

Varieties with transposons typically have sectors of all sizes: when the transposon is sitting in the gene, the flower is white, and where it has hopped out of the pigment gene, there is red pigment restored. These agents can cause specks of colour up to whole flowers. It's striking that there are no small sectors. There are transposons in other plant species that hop at specific stages of development preferentially.... but the patterns here are not correct. All the cells derived from a single "hop" form a coherent sector, and large sectors are pie-shaped and run from the center of the flower to the base. I've never seen stratification with a white center and red base. So, you've found something very odd and I don't have an explanation for it.

From Louis Paradise - Chairman of the Classification Committee, American Dahlia Society

I have not seen this particular variety before but I have seen one that is similar. Many years ago, the president of the Dahlia Society of California, Ira Neville, hybridized a red floral decorative with the same characteristics. This cultivar would throw out white ray florets randomly throughout the bloom and sometimes one side or the back or the center ray florets would be totally white.

There was no way of telling how many white florets any one bloom would have. No 2 blooms were ever the same and consequently he named this cultivar “Confusion”. Without consistency and uniformity, this cultivar went by the wayside even though it was unusual.

For related article click onto the following links:
RHS Dahlia
DAHLIA 'Bishop of Llandaff'
HOW TO GROW THE TREE DAHLIA - Dahlia imperialis

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