A Guide to the Carnation Flower Its Meaning, History & Uses

A Guide to the Carnation Flower: Its Meaning, History & Uses

The carnation flower signifies love and affection. This can be one of the reasons why it’s become a very popular cut flower that’s used for many events today.

But besides that, it has other favorable meanings, symbolisms, and certain traits that make it special to have or give.

Learn about the carnation flower’s meanings, history, special uses, and much more in this full guide!

How did the carnation flower get its name?

How did the carnation flower get its name

There are a few theories as to how the carnation got its name. First, it’s said that the word came from the Latin word corona (crown or garland), as the flowers had been used in ceremonial crowns in Rome and Greece.

Another is that the word could have stemmed from the Latin carnis (flesh) or the Middle French word carnation (skin tone) referencing the wild flower’s color—flesh or light pink. 

Do carnations have a different name?

Carnations are also referred to as clove pink or grenadine. Clove pink is related to and has a similar spice scent as the carnation flower.

What is the scientific name of carnations?

The scientific name of the carnation flower is Dianthus caryophyllus. Dianthus was coined by Greek botanist Theophrastus merging the Greek words for divine (dios) and flower (anthos).

Meanwhile, caryophyllus was from the Ancient Greek word karuóphullon, meaning clove. Carnations are known for their clove-like scent: sweet, warm, and earthy.

What group of plants do carnations belong to?

What group of plants do carnations belong to

Carnations are herbaceous plants that belong to the family Caryophyllaceae (carnation or pink family) and the genus Dianthus. This family is large with roughly 88 genera and 2,000 species.

The flower is divided into two groups, namely the border carnations and perpetual flowering carnations. The first type is smaller with flowers that grow less than 2 in. wide and 1 to 2.5 ft. tall, whereas the second grows up to 3 ft. tall with larger flowers.

Perpetual flowering carnations are believed to be the cross of cottage pinks (Dianthus plumarius) and border carnations. Also, as their name suggests, they bloom almost for the whole year in a greenhouse.

Where is the carnation flower native to?

Carnation flowers are believed to be native to the Mediterranean region. But due to their widespread cultivation since ancient times, their exact area of origin is yet unknown.

How long has there been a carnation flower?

How long has there been a carnation flower

Humans have been growing carnations for over 2,000 years. It was believed to have been discovered by Theophrastus, a Greek botanist.

But at that time, the wild carnation wasn’t the flower that people are now familiar with. It was light pink or peach, which may have inspired its name from the Latin word carnis (flesh).

Carnation Growth and Care Needs

Want to buy or grow carnations in the garden? Here are answers to some common questions regarding their bloom time, ease of growing, and care needs, which may come in handy.

When do carnations bloom?

Most carnations produce flowers from late spring to mid-summer, but their blooming period can be shorter or longer based on their species and the region where they are grown.

How long do carnation flowers bloom?

Planted carnation flowers can continue to bloom for as long as 8 weeks.

Do carnations bloom repeatedly?

Carnation flowers don’t rebloom in the same year, unlike orchids.

However, grown as perennial plants, carnations die back in winter but return and bloom in spring continually for several years.

Are carnations easy to grow?

Carnations are very easy to grow in the garden. It has moderate needs of 4 to 6 hours of sunlight each day and 2 to 3 times of watering a week.

Aside from that, these flowers are versatile and can be grown as garden bed, edging, cottage garden, and potted plants.

When should I plant carnations?

Carnation seeds should be planted in the ground in early spring—about 2 weeks after the winter.

They can also be grown in seed-starting potting mixes indoors about 8 weeks before winter ends, and the seedlings can be transplanted outside once the danger of frost has passed.

What type of soil is best for carnations?

Carnation flowers prefer slightly basic, moist, fertile, and well-drained soil to absorb the most nutrients through their roots and develop healthy roots, stems, and flowers.

What do carnation flowers symbolize in modern times?

What do carnation flowers symbolize in modern times

In general, carnation flowers symbolize love, affection, distinction, and gratitude. It’s also a popular symbol of maternity, as it represents the tears of the Virgin Mary in the Christian tradition.

What do different colors of carnation flowers mean?

The carnation’s meaning can also differ depending on its color. For example, pink carnations connote remembrance and gratitude, and red carnations mean love and romance.

Also, today, red carnations symbolize a living mother, whereas white carnations indicate a deceased mother. A person should therefore choose or wear carnation flowers with care.

Carnation ColorMeaning and Ideal Gifting Event
PinkMeaning: Compared to common pink flowers, pink carnations take a special meaning of remembrance and gratitude.

Also, pink is the most common color of the flower sold commercially. Therefore, pink carnations are also the most popular carnations that people get.

When it is given: When the giver wants to say thank you to a friend or parent for helping them or before saying goodbye to someone

RedMeaning: Dark-red carnations symbolize love and romance, while light-red carnations stand for light affection or friendship.

When it is given: Dark-red carnations can substitute red roses to convey one’s love for someone on Valentine’s Day, an anniversary, or a date.

Meanwhile, light-red carnations can be gifted to a friend or someone whom a person admires.

PurpleMeaning: Far from the meanings of usual purple flowers, which are royalty and wealth, purple carnations hold a negative meaning of indecisiveness and unpredictability.

When it is given: Due to the negative meaning the flowers are attached to, people don’t usually gift their recipient with purple carnations.

However, one can still use it to wish someone well in their new venture or relationship.

YellowMeaning: Contrary to popular belief, yellow carnations don’t mean friendship and cheerfulness, but they mean sadness, disappointment, and rejection.

When it is given: Yellow carnations are given when people want to apologize to someone or are mourning the death of a friend.

WhiteMeaning: White carnations mean purity and innocence. Apart from that, they connote a new beginning, wealth, and success.

When it is given: Given their favorable symbolisms, elegant white carnations are often used at weddings, baptisms, baby showers, and funeral events.

What did carnation symbolize in various historical periods?

What did carnation symbolize in various historical periods

In Ancient Greece, dianthuses were considered to be divine flowers. 

In the Middle Ages, they were used to treat swelling, heartaches, and headaches, and in the Victorian era, they were popularly used in flower bouquets and mainly conveyed love and gratitude.

One of the oldest flowers ever cultivated, the carnation symbolized different things at various points in history in Europe. Let’s have a closer look at them below.

Ancient GreekThe first mention of the flower’s scientific name, Dianthus, is found in the writings of the Greek botanist Theophrastus. He referred to the carnation as Dianthus or “the flower of the gods.”

He combined Dios, meaning Zeus or god and anthos, meaning flower.

Elizabethan EraCarnations were used as a spice substitute in wines and ales in place of the relatively expensive clove during the Elizabethan era.
Middle AgesDuring medieval times, the flower was frequently used as an herbal remedy to treat ailments such as headaches, heart issues, indigestion, and inflammation.
Victorian EraIn Victorian times, carnations were commonly used to beautify flower arrangements for gifting or decoration.

Both the general and special-color meanings of carnations that people now hold originated in this era.

Interestingly, the flowers were also used as a code when sending a message or answering a question.

A person sent a single-colored carnation to say yes or a yellow carnation to indicate no.

What is the cultural relevance of carnations?

What is the cultural relevance of carnations

Carnations are relevant in many cultures around the world. For instance, they’re Colombia’s top export product, and children give them to parents on Parents’ Day in Korea

Let’s delve further into their cultural impact below.

Cultural RelevanceDescription
The pink carnation was chosen as the official Mother’s Day flower.In 1907, Anna Jarvis selected the pink carnation as the official flower of Mother’s Day.

Even now, many people give their mothers pink carnations to represent their love and appreciation.

Kids give their parents carnations during Parents’ Day in Korea.Many children hand carnations to their parents on Parents’ Day (May 8th) in Korea to show their appreciation and love.
Colombia produces more carnations than any other country.Colombia is the world’s largest exporter of carnation flowers.

In 2021 alone, Colombia exported $256 million worth of carnations according to Opportimes.

The carnation is the national flower of Spain and Slovenia.The red carnation, also known in Spain as la flor de España or el clavel, is the official flower of Spain. It grows in red soil near its Mediterranean coastlines.

Similarly, Slovenia adopted the red carnation as its national flower because it’s extensively cultivated there.

It’s the official birth flower of January.Along with the snowdrop, the carnation is the birth flower of January.
It’s the official 1st wedding anniversary flower.Because of their lovely and fresh look, it’s only fitting that carnations are chosen as the official 1st wedding anniversary flower.
It’s the most popular wedding flower in China.In China, carnations mean good luck, bliss, and prosperity. So, it’s no wonder that it’s used in marriage ceremonies.
It symbolizes luck for Oxford students.Oxford University students have a tradition of wearing different colors of carnations over their exam period.

They first wear white carnations for luck, pink carnations for most of the exams, and red carnations for the final one.

It’s used for sympathy and funerals in France.In France, people use these flowers for funerals and sympathy to honor and remember a loved one.
It’s used to remember the fallen soldiers of World War II in the Netherlands.In Holland, people place white carnations on graves to remember fallen soldiers of World War II.

This gesture of respect is still practiced even now.

How do different cultures regard or use carnations?

How do different cultures regard or use carnations

As with their colors, the meaning of carnation flowers also varies according to location and culture. For instance, in Holland, people place white carnations on graves to remember fallen soldiers of World War II.

Similarly, in France, people use these flowers for funerals and sympathy. In contrast, pink or white carnations are often used as wedding bouquets and decor in China as a symbol of bliss and good luck.

What are the uses of the carnation flower?

What are the uses of the carnation flower

Besides gardening and decor, carnations are used for making candies, syrup for sweet treats and drinks, and garnishing meals. 

The herb is also drunk as tea or medicine to treat or alleviate health issues like fever, swelling, stress, and tension.

How is the carnation flower used in cooking?

The entire carnation flower is edible and used to add a hint of spice like nutmeg and clove to different meals. It’s also commonly used to adorn a variety of salads, desserts, and cocktails.

How is the carnation flower used in medicine?

According to NIH scientific research, certain species and parts of carnation flowers have been used as herbal remedies to treat different health conditions. Let’s now explore them below.

Carnation SpeciesFlower Part UsedMedicinal Uses
Dianthus caryophyllus L.Flower budsTreats wounds, gum infections, throat infections gastrointestinal disorders, effects of poisoning; improves heart health; induces sweating
Dianthus chinensis L.Whole plantTreats coughs, menstrual issues, and gonorrhea; used as diuretic to help urine pass from the body
Dianthus barbatus L.Whole plantUsed as a substitute for Dianthus chinensis L.
Dianthus anatolicus BoisWhole plantUsed as a general and antipyretic tonic.

A general tonic is taken as a medicine to improve a person’s well-being, while an antipyretic tonic works to reduce a person’s fever.

What are other uses of the carnation flower?

The carnation flower’s oil is also used for making perfumes, potpourri, and skin care products. In making potpourris, the flower heads are dried before being mixed with spices in a jar or another container.

FAQs about the Carnation Flower

FAQs about the Carnation Flower

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