Carnations are among the world's most popular cut flowers. The first mention of the carnation appeared more than 2,000 years ago in Greece. Today, more than 300 species of carnations exist worldwide. The carnation's color palette also has expanded from the original pale pink to scarlet, yellow, white, green and even purple.
Around 300 B.C., the Greek philosopher Theophrastus wrote about the carnation in his botanical studies, calling the flower "dianthus," for "flower of the gods" or "divine flower." In 1753, Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus classified the genus dianthus.
By 1893, botanists had identified more than 230 species of carnation. They include border carnations, common in Europe for centuries, and annual carnations, grown in North American gardens. European growers began cultivating a variety known as "perpetual carnations" for use as cut flowers around 1850.
The first carnations came to the United States in 1852, arriving on Long Island from France. Growers in the Northeast produced carnations until the mid-1900s. Before the 1870s, however, few American gardeners cultivated carnations. Dr. Levi Lamborn of Alliance, Ohio started growing the flowers in his greenhouse in 1866.
The scarlet carnation is the Ohio state flower, designated in honor of President William McKinley. McKinley was wearing his trademark scarlet carnation boutonniere when he was assassinated in 1901. Lamborn, who ran against McKinley for Congress in 1876, gave McKinley his first scarlet carnation during their campaign.
Carnations and Mother's Day are linked. In 1907, the celebration's creator, Anna Jarvis, asked sons and daughters to give their mothers a white carnation as a symbol of the purity of the love shared by a mother and her child.
After World War II, Britain was the world's largest producer of cut carnations, but high labor and energy costs cut back production, according to the British National Carnation Society. Today, most carnations are grown in Colombia.