The Curious History, Meaning and Symbolism of Carnations

Sweetly scented with delicate, intricately overlapping petals in an assortment of lush colors, carnations are one of our absolute favorite flowers! It’s not just us that loves carnations, they’re one of the most popular cut flowers all around the world.

But this popularity is nothing new, in fact, carnations or dianthus caryophyllus have been lauded and cultivated for their beauty for at least 2000 years. Because they have been cultivated for so long, carnations have a distinct history full of unique meanings, symbolism and fascinating details.

The History of Carnations

There are many potential origins of the name carnation, according to a Greek legend, the first carnation was created by the goddess Diana, who, after an unsuccessful hunt, plucked out the eyes of a shepherd in anger. She felt such remorse that from where the shepherd's eyes fell, red carnations grew as a symbol of innocence. From this, the name may be related to the word incarnation.

It is also possible that the name comes from the word coronation, as the bloom was often used in Greek and Roman ceremonial crowns. The Latin name on the other hand does have a definitive origin. Theophrastus, the ancient Greek botanist regarded as the father of botany, in awe of the natural beauty of the bloom, combined the words dios (meaning divine) and anthos (meaning flower) to name it dianthus or flower of the gods.

We have to agree that carnations are a heavenly flower!

Fountain of Diana. Anonymous; was wrongly attributed to Benvenuto Cellini, Germain Pilon, Jean Goujon. Reworked 1799–1800 by Pierre Nicolas Beauvallet

Carnations are also known as Pinks, why?

Because they’re pink, right? Well, not quite.

They’re actually called pinks because of their frilled edges and the 14th century verb to pink, meaning to decorate with a perforated pattern. In other words, the term pink was originally used to describe carnations and through this association took on its modern meaning.

The color pink was named after pinks, not the other way around. Carnations have long been used to make perfumes, flavorings and medicines. The fragrance was often used for vinegars, beers and wines. We’re really hoping carnation wine makes a comeback soon!

What do different colors of carnation mean?

  • Pink Carnations. Mean gratitude, making them an ideal way to symbolize your appreciation for someone you care about. Are a classic Mother’s day gift, but they can be used to show gratitude to anyone. In Korea they are given on Parent’s day and Teacher’s day as a bouquet or a corsage.
  • Red Carnations. Mean love and affection. If you want to show your romantic side, a red carnation is a show of passion and caring. Dark red indicates intense romantic love, while lighter red blooms show simple affection.
  • Yellow Carnations. Mean disappointment or rejection, these slightly more somber flowers can be given as a heartfelt apology or offer condolences.
  • White Carnations. Mean purity and good luck. White carnations are an ideal flower for someone who could use a little bit of good fortune.
  • Green Carnations. Mean health, resilience and youth, but they are also a symbol of the LGBT, popularized by poet and playwright Oscar Wilde who often wore a green carnation on his lapel.

No matter what you want to symbolize with carnations, these gorgeous, sweet scented blooms are a perfect way to show you care!

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