Get to know: Tree Dahlias

Photo by UC Master Gardeners of Monterey Bay

By Ramona Krucker, Gardener

at Marin Art and Garden Center

To celebrate Latinx/Hispanic Heritage Month, we want to turn a spotlight on the tree dahlia, which like the ancestors of common garden dahlias originated in the mountains of Mexico and Guatemala. In fact, the dahlia was declared Mexico’s national flower in 1963 by President Adolfo Lopéz Mateo to promote the the Floricultura Nacional exposition; thereafter, large plantings of dahlias in parks and along the famous Avenida Reforma appeared. 

The tree dahlia (Dahlia imperialis) is set apart from other dahlia species by its height of up to twenty feet and its hollow bamboo-like stems. It is believed that the Aztecs used the stems for transporting water and as a source of potable water for hunters and travelers. Their name for the tree dahlia was acocotil, meaning water-cane. To this day, the tree dahlia’s leaves are used as a dietary supplement by the K’ekchi people of San Pedro Carchá in the mountains of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. 

If you’ve never seen a tree dahlia, you’re in luck! There are two specimens growing at Marin Art and Garden Center. One was planted by our gardener Patty earlier this year and we’re keeping our fingers crossed for a bloom in November. The other one is situated by the Habitat Pond and is larger in size. Other specimens of Dahlia imperialis, collected in the wild in Guatemala, can be seen at the San Francisco Botanical Garden, where they usually bloom from November through January.  

If you are interested in ways to enjoy dahlias other than for their ornamental qualities, check out this article by the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity. It includes information on the origins of wild dahlia species in central Mexico and ideas for how the petals and tubers can be eaten raw and cooked.

More to explore

IRS Guidelines for Gifts from Donor Advised Funds to Support MAGC Events

Thank you for your interest in giving to the Marin Art & Garden Center events from your Donor Advised Fund (DAF) or Family Foundation.

We sincerely appreciate your generosity and support!

To ensure your gift follows the current IRS guidelines for DAF/Family Foundation support of an event, we would like to share the below guidelines with you.

  • Raffle tickets, tickets to galas and other special events, auction items, and benefits conferred in connection with a DAF/foundation grant are not permitted.
    • IRS has specifically ruled that fair market value associated with fundraising events cannot be separated, a practice known as “bifurcation.”
      • For example, with Edible Garden, if the price of the ticket is $200 and the FMV fair market value (non-tax-deductible amount) is designated to be $50, the donor must pay from sources other than her DAF/foundation for the full value of the ticket ($200) and not just for the non-tax-deductible amount ($50).
    • We recommend you confer with your financial advisor to confirm if any of these examples of how donors may still use their DAF to support an event would work for you:
      • A donor could sponsor the event, and not attend, and pay fully out of the DAF/foundation.
      • A donor could sponsor the event using DAF/foundation funds and attend by purchasing an individual ticket through non-DAF/foundation funds.
      • A donor could sponsor the event, join the event as a guest of another donor/table guest, and pay fully out of the DAF/foundation.
      • A donor could sponsor the event and host the afforded number of people at their chosen level as long as they pay for the seats at the lowest ticket price ($200 for Edible Garden) outside of their DAF.
        • As an example, a $1,500 sponsor that covers 2 guests, could pay for their sponsorship with $400 from a different source of funds, and then give an additional gift of $1,100 out of their DAF.


Please email Tod Thorpe, Director of Development at to discuss your gift to Marin Art and Garden Center