The Carnation Flower: Origins, Meaning, Symbolism, Colors, and Care Tips.

Whether it’s a birthday, graduation, Mother’s Day, Christmas, a thank you message, or a host of other special occasions, a bouquet of carnation flowers are a timeless variety to gift to friends and loved ones. Depending on the color you choose, they express love, admiration, gratitude, sadness, sorrow, appreciation, and more. When you think of beautiful, long-lasting, and readily available flowers, carnations are right up there with the best stems to pick. What’s great is carnation flowers are readily available year-round in various colors and varieties.  In this guide, we’ll take you through everything you need to know about Carnation Flower Meaning, Symbolism, Popular Varieties, and more.


The Carnation Flower

The Carnation

Carnation or scientifically known as Dianthus caryophyllus is a highly popular flowering plant used in landscapes and home gardens or as cut flowers for bouquets, floral arrangements, corsages, and boutonnieres. One of the oldest cultivated ornamental crops, it has been existing for more than 2,000 years and adored for its fragrance, ruffle-like blooms, and long blooming period. 

Also called grenadines or clove pinks, carnations are herbaceous perennial plants native to the Mediterranean region. They are known to have been used in arts and decor by Greeks and Romans.

Botanist Carl Linneaus coined the name Dianthus caryophyllus in 1753. Renowned Greek botanist Theophrastus gave the genus name Dianthus. It comes from the Greek word “dios,” which means “divine” and refers to the god Zeus, and “anthos,” which means “flower.” Because of this, the name “Flowers of God” also relates to carnations.

The caryophyllus species epithet originated from the Greek word “karya,” which means walnut tree, and “phyllon,” which means “leaf.”

It is believed that the first carnations appear in a single stem and predominantly in shades of pale pink and peach. But throughout the years, as breeding programs advance, more and more colors and varieties of carnations emerge in the market. These attractive blooms are now available in a wide range of colors, including red, white, purple, green, and more. 

Carnation Flower Meaning

Mothers Day Carnations Flower Delivery
Mother’s Day Carnations

Much like roses, carnations are well-loved for the vast array of colors they offer, and each of these colors signifies a different meaning. Generally, carnations are a symbol of fascination and women’s love. They give out elegant, attractive blooms that quickly express a variety of emotions. 

Carnations that are pink in color symbolize a mother’s love. This symbolism can be traced back to an early Christian legend that these flowers bloomed when Virgin Mary started crying as Jesus carried the cross. Pink carnations are also typically presented as a sign of appreciation. 

Red carnations are also a popular color choice, but different shades of red convey different meanings. Light red carnations represent friendship and admiration, whereas the dark red variations express sincere love and affection. The white ones, on the other hand, are a symbol of pure love and good luck. 

Although most carnations signify positive meanings, some colors present otherwise. Striped carnations, for one, is a symbol of regret and refusal. Purple carnations symbolize capriciousness, and yellow carnations are for disappointment and sorrow. 

Carnation Flower Symbolism

Renowned globally, these blooms play an essential role in various cultures worldwide. 

Carnations are associated with Mother’s Day. Anna Jarvis, the woman who founded Mother’s Day in the US, designated white carnations as the holiday’s emblem since it is her mother’s favorite flower, and it embodies the purity of a mother’s love. Today, red carnations are worn if one’s mother is alive, and a white variation if she has died. 

Green carnations are typically worn for St. Patrick’s Day. Even renowned Irish writer Oscar Wilde used to wear green carnations in celebration of this cultural and religious celebration. 

In Korea, carnations are worn on Parents’ Day and Teachers’ Day. 

The beauty of carnations blends well with other flowers in wedding bouquets and almost any kind of floral arrangement in which they are often used as filler flowers or volume flowers. Boutonnieres and corsages also use these blooms. 

Carnations make excellent centerpiece table decor as well by using three to six stems per centerpiece.

Carnations are short-lived perennials that typically bloom for three to four years. They have three main distinct types of cultivars: large-flowered carnations, spray or mini carnations, and dwarf-flowered carnations. Large-flowered carnations produce one prominent flower per stem. Spray or mini carnations grow lots of small flowers per stem. Dwarf-flowered carnations also form small flowers but in lesser quantities. They are the smallest type of carnations. 

Below are some of the most recognized varieties of carnations:

White Carnation Flower Meaning

White Carnations
White Carnations

Thinking about giving someone flowers wishing her good luck? Or flowers to express pure love and affection? Then, white carnations are the perfect blooms to let them know what you think. Available all year round, white carnations flaunt a soft, tightly ruffled white blooms that smell sweet-spicy like a clove. 

White carnations also convey a message of a prosperous life. They make an ideal birthday gift to elders or to someone starting something new in life. 

Dianthus caryophyllus ‘Floristan White’ or Floristan White is one of the most recognized white varieties of carnation. Part of the distinguished Floristan series, it produces large white flowers with blue-green foliage. The Floristan White carnations are long-lasting. 

Red Carnation Flower Meaning

Red Carnations
Red Carnations

Like red roses, red carnations are the ideal flower when you are planning to express deep love and affection with a romantic gesture. These flowers display ruffled petals that add just the right texture to any arrangement. The vivid red gives a pop of color that easily turns head anywhere. 

One of the most popular is the Laced Romeo carnations. It displays double red flowers fringed with white stems. Like other carnations, they are fragrant and available all year round. 

The ‘King of the Blacks’ carnations are hardy carnations that effortlessly brings a touch of black-like, deep red color to any arrangement. This fascinating cut flower displays velvety, dark burgundy-red double flowers atop firm stems. The leaves are evergreen, gray-green, and linear. 

Another popular red carnation variety is the ‘Garden Spice Red’ carnations. These plants produce small, frilly, and red double flowers that bloom for a long season. Like other carnations, the Garden Spice Red flowers are also fragrant and add a nice texture to floral arrangements.

Pink Carnation Flower Meaning

Pink Carnation
Pink Carnation

Exquisite pink carnations symbolize a mother’s pure and never-ending love. Because of this symbolism, pink carnations make the perfect flower for your mother or mom friends on Mother’s Day. They are also known to symbolize gratitude. Hence, pink carnations are your choice if you would like to show appreciation to someone. 

The ‘Chomley Farran’ carnation is a famed cut flower and an excellent border plant. The bi-color double flowers display pink and purple petals that are about 1.5 inches wide each. The stems are typically 12 to 18 inches long. 

One known pink carnation is the Grenadin Pink carnations, which is a part of the Grenadin series. The Dianthus caryophyllus ‘Grenadin Pink’ displays enticing deep pink flowers that attract butterflies and hummingbirds. The large, ruffled, double flowers radiate a long-lasting spicy-sweet scent. Complementing the beautiful blooms of this gardener-favorite carnation are glossy bronze or blue-green leaves and sturdy stems.

Another popular cultivar of pink carnations is the Dianthus caryophyllus ‘Peach Delight.’ This fascinating ornamental plant produces fragrant flowers that are peach-colored at first but turns pinkish over time. Multiple flowers grow per stem. 

Yellow Carnation Flower Meaning

Yellow Carnations
Yellow Carnations

Some schools of thought link yellow carnations or more specifically the color yellow to feelings of rejection and disappointment but this epic flower is so radiant that it would be silly to overlook such a beautiful stem.  Exquisite in mixed bouquets as a warming arrangement in springtime. 

Some of the most recognized yellow carnations are the Clarion carnations and the Golden Sun Carnations. Dianthus caryophyllus ‘Clarion’ shows double yellow flowers atop a sturdy upright stem and gray to silver foliage. Golden Sun carnations, which are known as excellent cut flowers, boast long stems and attractive large yellow blooms that smell like clove. 

What to Look for When Buying Carnations

Carnations are ethylene-sensitive since it induces senescence of flower petals. Exposure to ethylene would make carnation flowers deteriorate faster. When buying carnation as a cut flower, choose one that is pre-treated with an anti-ethylene product to ensure a long-lasting bloom. 

Also, check on the storage conditions of flowers before purchasing. Carnations that have been stored for too long or improperly could hinder the flower buds from opening. 

If you are looking for fresh carnations, look for half-open flowers, while others are still in buds. They will fully open after a day or so in water and will be at their best bloom within 3 to 4 days. 

Key Tips for Caring for Carnation Flowers

One of the key characteristics that made carnations so famous is their ability to live long postharvest, usually up to 10 days to 2 weeks, as long as proper treatment is received. Here are some essential points to note that will help you maximize carnations’ long-lasting blooms. 

  • Place the carnation cut flowers in a clean vase with fresh water and flower food to promote hydration and water uptake. 
  • Remove the carnation leaves below the water level and recut the stems 2 to 3 cm with a clean and sharp knife. 
  • If your carnations have not been treated with any product against ethylene, treat them as soon as possible with any commercially available anti-ethylene product. 
  • Keep the carnation flowers away from direct sunlight and heat. 
  • Be careful handling the flower heads as they can pop off easily! 

Petal Republic’s flower and plant guides:

Looking for a particular stem or in need of some inspiration on the best blooms for a certain occasion? Check out Petal Republic’s expert buying guides to Roses, Ranunculus, Lilies, Irises, Tulips, Orchids, Carnations, Gerbera Daisies, Gladiolus, and Peonies.  


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