Carnation Meaning and Symbolism

Carnation Story and Origins

Carnations are also called pinks because of their spiky petals that look like they were cut with pinking shears. There are several theories about how the carnation got its name. Some believe that it comes from the word coronation because it was used in Greek ceremonial crowns. Others think that it originated from the Latin word carnis, meaning flesh, because early carnations were typically pink.

Carnations scientific name is Dianthus caryophyllus. Some believe the name Dianthus originated from the myth of Diana. There are a few variations of this story. In one variation Diana, goddess of the hunt, was returning from an unsuccessful hunting trip. She stumbled upon a shepherd playing a flute and blamed his music for spoiling her hunting.

In a fit of rage she attacked him and plucked out his eyes. Once she cooled down, she regretted her actions. Where the eyes fell, red carnations grew as signs of innocent blood.

Others believe that Dianthus was named after Zeus, as Zeus in Greek is dios and flower is anthos. Carnations are also referred to as the flower of the gods.

Carnation Meaning

The carnation means fascination, distinction, and love.

  • According to a Christian legend, carnations grew from the Virgin Mary’s tears as she watched Jesus carry the cross. This is how they became associated with motherly love.
  • In the Netherlands, white carnations are worn to remember veterans and the country’s resistance to World War II.
  • In France, purple carnations are the traditional funeral flower.
  • In some countries, red carnations are worn on May Day to symbolize socialism and the labor movement.

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Carnation Symbolism & Colors

Carnations grow in a wide variety of colors including pink, white, red, yellow, and scarlet. They are popular flowers for dying, so if you can’t find a natural color you like you can create it! Each color has a different meaning.

  • White carnations symbolize purity and luck.
  • Light red carnations symbolize admiration.
  • Dark red carnations symbolize love and affection.
  • Pink carnations symbolize gratitude.
  • Yellow carnations symbolize disappointment or rejection.
  • Purple carnations symbolize capriciousness.

Carnation Cultural Significance

Carnations have inspired many artists, poets, and authors. British composer Joseph Mazzinghi wrote a song entitled “Ye Shepherds Tell Me”, which told of a beautiful girl wearing a wreath of flowers.

 

A wreath around her head,

Around her head she wore,

Carnation, lily, lily, rose,

And in her hand a crook she bore,

And sweets her breath compose.

 

Esteemed artist John Singer Sargent was influenced by this song, and created a painting entitled Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, which depicts two girls playing with lanterns in the garden.

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Carnation Facts

  • The scarlet carnation was adopted by the state of Ohio in 1904 to honor the late President William McKinley.
  • The first carnations in the US were shipped from France to Long Island in 1852.
  • Carnations are the January birth flower.
  • Carnations are given on 1st anniversaries as a sign of love and commitment.
  • They’re the second most popular cut flower after roses.
  • Carnations are the national flower of Spain and Slovenia.

Carnation Uses

Carnations have a history of being brewed into tea to help reduce stress and restore energy. Carnation tea has also been used to reduce fever and treat stomach aches. In addition to tea, carnation oil is used in beauty products to moisturize skin, minimize wrinkles, and treat skin conditions.

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