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History of the Carnation Flower

By Isabel Prontes ; Updated September 21, 2017
A classic carnation.
Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of D. Sharon Pruitt

Carnations are flowers that are also commonly referred to as Chinese pinks; the Latin name is Dianthus caryophyllus. It is classified as being a herbaceous perennial plant, and originated in the Mediterranean area. Carnations come in many different colors, such as yellow, red, pink and multicolored. There are more than 300 different varieties of carnations. There are many naturally occurring carnation hybrids due to cross-pollination. They have been cultivated since Roman and Greek times.


Although carnations are native to the southern European Mediterranean region, the first country to develop the flower was England. Carnations have been celebrated in England since the poet Geoffrey Chaucer's era. Chaucer referred to them as "the clove gilofrer." Today, they are grown all over the world, in fields as well as in greenhouses.


Carnations have had many vital roles throughout history. The celebrated flowers were used to decorate ceremonial crowns in Greece. They were Jupiter's (king of the gods) flower of choice. In Christian lore, carnations initially appeared as Jesus was carrying the cross. They also were present as Mary's tears were falling for Jesus.


It is believed that the name "carnation" is extracted from the word "coronation" or the word "corone" (flower garlands). This is believed to be so due to its connection with Greek ceremonial crowns. However, it is also believed that the name is derived from "carnis," which means "flesh." This is because the original color of the carnation was a pink, fleshy tone.


Part of the popularity of carnations throughout history can be attributed to the fact that they are fairly simple to grow. They can be planted in containers or flowerbeds. They are grown from seeds, and can be seeded directly into gardens or started indoors for later transplanting outside. For outdoor planting, the best time to do so is early in spring. It is important to make sure that the soil isn't excessively wet. Carnations thrive in full sun and soil that is well drained and rich in quality. They should be watered (during periods of dryness) either one or two times a week. They bloom starting in the spring and continue until the end of the summer.


Historically, there has been a lot of symbolism attached to carnations. White carnations are believed to symbolize strong luck and pure love. Purple carnations symbolize impulsiveness. Dark red carnations are for deep affection and love. Pink carnations symbolize unending motherly love.