Whether you’re selecting a boutonniere or browsing through mixed flower bouquets for a birthday, you’ll probably spot carnations. These classic-cut flowers often serve as supporting cast members for flowers like roses and lilies, but we think they deserve a starring role. With ruffled petals and long vase life, what’s not to love about a carnation bouquet?
Not only are these flowers stunning, but they also come with rich meaning. Both the flower color as well as ancient traditions impact the exact symbolism tied to carnations. Keep reading to learn more about the meaning behind these popular flowers.
Carnation Name Basics
While the various varieties of carnations may look quite different, they are all part of the Dianthus caryophyllus species. The genus name Dianthus comes from the two Greek words “dios” meaning divine and “anthos” meaning flower. Therefore, carnations are sometimes known as the flower of the gods.
The species name caryophyllus comes from the Greek words “karya” and “phyllon” which mean walnut tree and leaf. However, Carl Linnaeus didn’t choose the species name because of the walnut tree. When Linnaeus picked the name, caryophyllus was the genus name of the clove family. While this name has since changed, the clove-like fragrance of carnation flowers remains.
Other common names for carnations include grenadines or pinks. The latter doesn’t refer to the flower’s color, but rather the petals’ appearance. Some people thought that the petal edges looked like they’d been cut with pinking shears, aka scissors with jagged rather than straight blades.
Carnation Origin and History
The carnation isn’t a new kid on the block. People have cultivated these flowers for over 2,000 years, so it’s a bit difficult to determine their exact origin. With that said, historians believe carnations originated somewhere in the Mediterranean.
While you can now find many colors of carnations, experts believe wild carnations were light pink or peach. Some people viewed these flowers as symbols of human flesh and incarnation. In fact, the word carnation may stem from the Latin word “carnis” meaning flesh.
Other people believe that the name carnation relates to one of its original uses. People often used carnations in flower garlands known as “corone.” Greeks also used carnations in flower crowns, so the name carnation might come from the word “coronation.”
Carnation Meaning and Symbolism
In general, carnations are positive symbols of love, fascination, and gratitude. However, they can also hold more unpleasant meanings.
A Mother’s Love
While any flowers will make mom happy on Mother’s Day, carnations are the official flower of this holiday. In 1908, Anna Jarvis held a ceremony to recognize her late mother as well as other moms. This day later became known as the first Mother’s Day. Jarvis chose the white carnation as the official flower of Mother’s Day.
“Its whiteness is to symbolize the truth, purity, and broad-charity of mother love; its fragrance, her memory, and her prayers. The carnation does not drop its petals but hugs them to its heart as it dies, and so, too, mothers hug their children to their hearts, their mother’s love never dying. When I selected this flower, I was remembering my mother’s bed of white pinks,” said Jarvis.
Today, the red carnation recognizes living mothers while the white carnation pays respects to deceased mothers.
Another reason why carnations symbolize a mother’s love relates to early Christian legends. As the Virgin Mary watched Jesus carry the cross, her tears fell upon the ground. Some Christians believe that carnations sprang from the spots where her tears landed.
Commitment and Devotion
Carnations are also a symbol of devotion in the present and in years to come. Therefore, it’s no surprise that they’re the traditional flower for a first wedding anniversary.
Since carnations symbolize commitment, they’re also commonly used in wedding bouquets and boutonnieres.
There aren’t many flowers shaped like a carnation. Perhaps that’s why they are symbols of distinction and uniqueness. This makes them the perfect flower for a friend who beats to the tune of their own drum.
Carnations can also symbolize fascination. This all stems from the flower’s many layers of delicate ruffled petals.
If you’d like to send a hint that you find someone fascinating, try ordering a bouquet of carnations. Of course, not everyone knows the symbolism behind flowers, so you may need to drop some additional hints.
The Meaning and Symbolism of Carnation Colors
Carnations have come a long way from the original pink blooms. Thanks to the efforts of plant breeders, you can now find carnations in a wide variety of colors and hues. As you may have guessed, each of these colors holds a specific meaning.
Like many other white flowers, white carnations are symbols of purity and innocence. They’re often used at weddings, baptisms, and funerals.
White carnations are also symbols of prosperity and new starts.
Dark Red Carnations
Did someone say romance? Dark red carnations are a classic symbol of love, passion, and romance. They’re the perfect gift for Valentine’s Day or anniversaries.
Light Red Carnations
While deep red carnations symbolize love and romance, light red flowers symbolize friendship or minor interest. That means light red carnations are a great way to show a friend you care or to let someone know you’re interested in them.
Pink carnations symbolize gratitude and humility. If you need to show someone you appreciate them, you can’t go wrong with pink carnations. These carnations also symbolize remembering people even after they’ve left your life. This symbolism makes them popular flowers at funerals and memorial services.
While you might think bright yellow carnations symbolize cheerfulness, this isn’t the case. These flowers are tied to feelings of rejection, regret, and disappointment. Therefore, yellow carnations are a great flower for when you want to apologize.
Many purple flowers are symbols of royalty and respect, but this isn’t the case with purple carnations. These flowers symbolize unpredictability and mercurial behavior.
Carnation Meanings Around the World
Culture and location impact the meaning of a carnation just as much as the color. While some carnation traditions have faded over time, you can still find people adhering to them.
The Dutch use white carnations to remember the people who lost their lives during World War II. Loved ones sometimes place white carnations on graves to remember their family members’ sacrifices.
While purple carnations are sometimes a symbol of capriciousness, the French use them in funerals. People often place the purple flowers on top of caskets or near gravesites.
Carnations are a popular choice for Chinese wedding flowers. While brides may opt for any color, white and pink are traditional.
Carnation Fun Facts
Looking for some fun facts to impress your friends with? Then check out these carnation facts.
- Carnations are the official birth flower of January.
- The carnation business is a big deal. In 2020, over $2,719 million of carnations were sold worldwide.
- The carnation is the official flower of Spain and Slovenia.
- Colombia produces more carnations than any other country.
Sending and Keeping Carnations
If you want to send carnations, you’re in luck! These flowers keep well in transit — especially when farmers harvest them in the bud form.
After they arrive at your door, you’ll want to give the stems a fresh snip and put them in a vase of water. Like all cut flowers, they’re happiest in a cool location that is free from direct sunlight. With the proper care, carnations can last anywhere from one to two weeks!
While a bouquet of carnations is great on its own, these blooms also pair well with other flowers. Try mixing them with roses, lilies, or daisies. And while we’re speaking of daisies, don’t forget to check out some information about daisy meaning and symbolism.
Growing Carnations at Home
If you’d like to try your hand at growing carnations at home, you should keep a few things in mind. In warm areas, carnations can be grown as perennials. However, if you live in zone 7 or below, you’ll need to treat these plants as annuals.
When you’re selecting carnation varieties, be aware there are different types. The three main categories are large-flower carnations, dwarf carnations, and spray carnations.
If you don’t have a yard, don’t worry. You can grow carnations in a container or in the ground as long as you have well-drained soil. No matter where you plant them, make sure your plants receive at least six hours of bright sun each day.
Carnations begin producing blooms in the spring. At this point, you can snip a few stems to bring indoors or share with friends. If you remove dead flowers and water well, carnation plants can continue blooming for weeks or even months.
Find Meaning in Flowers
Now that you know about carnation meaning and symbolism, you’ll be able to send the perfect message to a loved one. If you feel that carnations aren’t the perfect flower, don’t fret. Each flower comes with its own meaning, so you can create your own floral message. Check out dahlia meaning and symbolism, the meaning of the iris flower, and flower meanings from mythology to keep learning about the meanings of flowers.Shop All