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All About Carnations: What You Need to Know

carnations in pink and red with greenery

Looking to learn more about carnation flowers? Carnations are an underrated bloom. They’re the stuff science experiments are made of—soaking up dye through their slender stems. Some think of them as cheaper, filler flowers—a substitute for luxurious, romantic roses.

But, we think it’s time to reconsider the flower and appreciate its unique beauty. There are many types of carnations, one for every kind of person and every kind of occasion. Carnations also have a mythical history, with ties to Greek mythology and even the Virgin Mary’s mourning.

Let’s celebrate the flower—in its multiple color schemes and varying degrees of symbolism. Here’s a little more about carnation flowers:


Carnation Symbolism

Carnation symbolism begins with a discussion of how gentle and graceful this flower is. They’re an elegant bloom that can express a range of emotions, making them a great choice whether you’re looking to say “I love you” or simply say “thanks” to a friend.

Different colors have different carnation symbolism, much like roses. Red carnations have come to symbolize passion and love, while yellows and peaches may be best suited for sweet, platonic messages.

All About Carnation Flowers and their Mythical Origins

Interestingly, the carnation’s folklore does not just end with carnation symbolism. It is a flower of many legends.

A Flower of Mourning

According to early Christian legend, the very first carnations sprang from the earth the day Jesus carried the cross. Jesus’ mother, Mary began to cry in response to her son’s suffering, and pink carnations bloomed in the wake of her tears. As such, pink carnation symbolism generally refers to a mother’s love.

Innocent Blood Spilled

Some folks believe that the flower takes its name from the mythical goddess, Diana, goddess of the hunt.

One day, after returning angry and discouraged from a trip empty-handed, Diana crossed paths with a flute-playing shepherd and unfairly blamed him for her misfortunes. Enraged, she attacked the shepherd and plucked out his eyes, then immediately regretted the act of violence.

According to legend, red carnations grew where the shepherd’s eyes fell—a sign of innocent blood spilled.

A History Lesson About Carnation Flowers

While we can’t verify the carnation’s connection to Jesus or the blood of any musically-inclined shepherds, there are many types of carnations that date back to ancient times. In Greek and Roman times, the flowers were used for décor.

Early carnations did not come in all kinds of colors as they do today–initially, they were limited to shades of pink and peach. Today, types of carnation span the entire color wheel—available in red, white, yellow, purple, and green.

What’s terrific about the carnation is its ability to endure. Through the ages, all types of carnations have endured, representing universal emotions like love and fascination.

Different Colors, Different Meanings

Different types of carnations have different meanings. As such, you’ll find the usual color designations–pinks are great when sending your mom a Bouq, while deep reds are better suited in romantic situations.

A quick rundown:

  • Light red carnations represent admiration and friendship, while deep reds signify passion and romantic love.
  • Pink carnations represent a mother’s love, in keeping with the story of Mary and Jesus. Some people also believe the pink carnation represents a woman’s love in general.
  • Purple carnations are less clear-cut. Some say they represent capriciousness, others just view them as a natural sign of beauty.
  • White carnations represent love, innocence, gratitude, luck, and faithfulness.

They’re More Than a Decoration

While we’re used to seeing carnations by the stem or poking out of a bouquet, they have some medicinal benefits, too.

Carnations’ Medicinal Uses

We already know about the aromatic benefits of lavender and the immune-boosting powers of echinacea. But, did you know that carnations some medicinal benefits of their own?

Carnations have long been used to soothe the nervous system, treat inflammation, and reduce swelling. Additionally, the flower is thought to relieve muscle tension, menstrual cramps, and menopausal symptoms.

Carnations Have Some Serious Skin Benefits

Carnations are rich in saponins, a chemical present in many plants. These glycosides were historically used to make soap. You can make your own natural carnation soap by simmering the plant’s leaves in water. The result is a gentle soap you can use to clean your skin, wash your clothes, and so on. While this use is pretty much obsolete, it’s still a cool thing to try. Carnation oil (as well as carnation soap) can deliver some excellent benefits to the skin.

Carnation oil is known to calm irritated skin. It is also thought to minimize the appearance of wrinkles and soothe skin conditions, like rosacea and eczema.

They’re Edible

Though mild in appearance, carnations have a strong smell that’s very similar to cloves. Carnations can be candied and used as a garnish or made into a syrup that can be added to unique desserts and cocktails.

Carnations have stood the test of time—adorning ancient forums in varying shades of pink and delighting flower lovers for millennia.


Today, the carnation is a flower for all occasions. And despite its ubiquity, it’s a versatile addition to any bouquet. Whether or not you choose to send messages in the form of a Bouq, there’s no denying the appeal of the humble carnation. There are many fascinating facts about carnations, and you can also learn to press carnations.

Check out our selection of carnation-forward bouquets and bring some of that mythical, medicinal energy into your home or someone else’s.

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