Rare plant of the month – June 2021

Cultivar names are not always what they seem …. unravelling the mystery of Dahlia ‘Little Tiger’.

This story begins with a glamorous Plant Exchange orphan, adopted as ‘Little Tiger’ and appearing to be eligible for our Plant Guardian conservation scheme. However, this very photogenic dahlia required a closer look into its origins.

Upon further enquiries sent through the Dahlia Register it appears that Dahlia ‘Little Tiger’ is a selling name applied to Dahlia ‘Rothesay Herald’, that originated circa 1960 from Rothesay on the Isle of Bute.

Dahlia LITTLE TIGER (‘Rothesay Herald’)

It is referenced in the Dutch CNB dahlia catalogue of 1981-1982 which records LITTLE TIGER as a selling, or trade name, of ‘Rothesay Herald’, but by 1987 it had lost all reference to ‘Rothesay Herald’. 

Our research to clarify the origins of our Plant Guardian plant are ongoing, but it has highlighted the Alex Lister & Son nursery, Rothesay, and the significant contribution they have made within the dahlia trade.

A Herald Scotland article from 1994 highlighted both the ‘impressive list of superb varieties’ that the Lister nursery grew, and the important work they undertook with Dr John Grainger, plant pathologist of West of Scotland Agricultural College, to eliminate disease from dahlia stock. The article concludes on a sombre note that the dahlia aspect of the business was discontinued due to economic pressures, perhaps this also included dahlias becoming less fashionable for a period. 

The nursery is linked to 109 entries on the Dahlia Register between the years of 1937 and 1973, a number which are recorded as threatened through the Threatened Plant Programme (including ‘Rothesay Castle’, ‘Doctor John Grainger’ and ‘Moonlight’) and many for which there is no known living plant recorded (such as ‘Dusky Maid’, ‘Duke of Rothesay’ and ‘Edith Ireland’). Whilst dahlia growing appears to be in the midst of a renaissance, maybe we can rediscover further Alex Lister & Son introductions.