Carnation is not a 4 letter word.

December 18, 2022

Ok, I admit it, I love carnations! There I said it…whew! I finally got that off my chest.

As someone in the floral industry, it is often hard to admit that you like the carnation. Once a super popular flower, somewhere over the years it got a bad rap and liking them gave you a reputation for being cheap and without taste.

I can’t tell you how many times I have had customers tell me that they do not want carnations in their arrangements or wedding flowers. Many times I am able to win them over by showing them some of the new varieties. One bride was addiment about the no carnation rule but when I showed her a dusty pink one, she said it was beautiful and asked what kind of flower it was!

Now there are certain colors and varieties that I do not care for but there are some that are just gorgeous as you will see. And let’s not forget the fragrance! While not as strong as it used to be before it got bred out trying to produce a sturdier flower, some varieties still smell great, especially the white ones.

Growing up in the 70’s, the carnation was everywhere. I vividly recall my Boy Scout Troop selling them after church for Mother’s Day, The garden center/florist I worked for in high school had this walk through cooler that was always filled with buckets and buckets of carnations of all different colors(I think most of them were dyed!) and they were worn as corsages and boutonnieres at school dances, weddings and other occasions.


Roses, hydrangeas and peonies often steal the floral spotlight, but did you know that the oft-neglected carnation was once a botanical star?

A century ago breeding carnations was a rich man’s hobby, with millionaires competing against each other for prizes at flower shows. In New Jersey horticulturalists were feverishly working to develop a vivid purple variety. In Far Rockaway, New York, a florist managed to grow an actual green variety(as opposed to the ones that are dyed). “Emerald” had a3-inch diameter and sellers around the country were desperate to get their hands on it.

Meanwhile, greenhouse operations devoted to the carnation’s propagation dotted the Midwest, and the so-called Carnation King of Cincinnati—a fellow named Richard Witterstaetter—sold a cross between “Lawson” and “Enquirer” that he named “Aristocrat” to a Chicago nurseryman for $40,000!

A quote from the circa-1915 book Commercial Carnation Culture  “We have in the carnation one of the great flowers of the ages, ranking second only to the rose in universal esteem.”



The humble flower has been used in fine art for centuries, especially by the Dutch masters. Red carnations were particularly popular in religious imagery.

The scientific name for the carnation is “Dianthus caryophyllus” In Greek, dios means Zeus or God and anthos means flower. So the literal translation is “flower of the gods” or “heavenly flower.” According to legend, carnations sprang from the ground where the Virgin Mary’s tears fell when Jesus died.

Carnations were revered in Ancient Greece and Rome. These two cultures were the first to cultivate the flower over 2,000 years ago, making it one of the oldest cultivated flowers in the world. They also wore carnations as ceremonial garlands and used them as decorations in many coronations (hence, where the name “carnation” comes from.)

In Oscar Wilde’s time, green carnations worn in the lapel were a sign of homosexuality.

Anna Jarvis, founder of Mother’s Day, loved them because they were her mom’s favorite flower. “The carnation does not drop its petals,” Jarvis once said, “but hugs them to its heart as it dies and so, too, mothers hug their children to their hearts, their mother love never dying.”.

Did you know?

Carnations are one of the sturdiest and longest-lasting flowers on the market and come in nearly every color of the rainbow.

The carnation is the birth flower of January

Carnations are Edible. While they might not be the most delicious things in existence, carnations are often used as an edible decoration/garnish on salads, cakes, and other desserts. On top of that, breweries, distilleries, and wineries also some times use carnations as a flavoring agent.

In the Victorian era, carnations were reportedly used to respond to suitors or secret admirers. A solid color signaled "yes," striped was "regretfully, no," and yellow, "no."


Bogota is the carnation capital of the world growing most of the world’s carnations.


It is the national flower of Spain, Monaco and Slovenia and it’s one of the 5 national flowers of Portugal.


The red carnation has been Ohio’s state flower since 1904. It honors President William McKinley who was Ohio born and who regularly wore a red carnation on his lapel.


Carnations have been used in the past to treat physical ailments including hair loss, muscle tension and skin problems.

Carnations are still used to this day in many perfumes, thanks to their spicy fragrance similar to cloves.


Now days there are many new and heirloom cultivars available that are breathing new life into the word of carnations.

Now that you know just how wonderful the carnation can be, it’s time to go out and give them a second chance. You might be surprised and fall back in love with these little gems.