The Carnation Flower: Its Meanings & Symbolism

Carnation Flowers

Carnations have enjoyed a varied and rich history filled with symbolism and legend. They are thought to be one of the oldest cultivated flowers in the world. While the original carnation sported petals in shades of pink and peach, today’s cultivated varieties run the gamut from pure white and shades of pink and red to green, yellow and purple with many striped or variegated versions, too.

What Does the Carnation Flower Mean?

What a carnation means depends on the circumstances and the color symbolism of the bloom, but there are some common meanings that apply to all carnations.

  • Love
  • Fascination
  • Distinction

Etymological Meaning of the Carnation Flower

The carnation’s scientific name, Dianthus, comes from a combination of two Latin words: “dios,” meaning gods, and “anthos,” meaning flower. Carnations are referred to as the flowers of the gods.

There are two schools of thought about how this flower earned the common name of carnation. Some believe the name came from the ancient Romans who wore carnations in garlands. They claim the name comes from “corone,” the Roman word for flower, or reflects an alternate pronunciation for the word “coronation” because they were often worn as crowns in religious ceremonies. Others believe the carnation earned its name from the Latin word caro,” meaning flesh, as this was the color of the first carnations. It is also thought to be derived from the Latin word “incarnation,” meaning the incarnation of God in the flesh.

Symbolism of the Carnation Flower 

Ancient Roman Legend: According to legend, the carnation flower appeared after the Crucifixion of Christ. When mother Mary wept at the death of her son, her tears fell to the earth. Carnations sprang forth from each spot where Mary’s tears stained the earth. This legend lends credence to the theory that the carnation earned its name from incarnation.

Korean Culture: The Koreans use the carnation to foretell the fortune of young girls. Upon placing three freshly cut carnations in her hair, the young girl is charged with observing which of the three will die first. If the top flower dies off first, it indicates that the latter years of the girl’s life will be filled with strife. If the middle flower fades first, it indicates she will experience turmoil during her youth. If the lower flower dies and fades first, it indicates that the young woman will face great challenges throughout her lifetime.

Chinese Culture: The carnation is used in weddings in China. In fact, it is the most common flower used in Chinese wedding ceremonies.

Japanese Culture: In Japan, the red carnation symbolizes love and is the most common flower for Mother’s Day.

Victorian: During Victorian times, flowers often sent a secret, coded message to a suitor or secret admirer. Sometimes, they also answered a secret question. A solid colored carnation meant the answer was “yes”. A striped carnation signified “I’m sorry, but I can’t be with you.” A yellow carnation symbolized “No”.

United States: Carnations are the official flowers for Mother’s Day. They are also worn in corsages and boutonnieres for prom and other special events. The green carnation is typically worn on St. Patrick’s Day. It is also the birth flower for January.

Carnation Flowers

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Carnation Flower Color Meanings

While all carnations symbolize love and affection, the color of the flower also carries meaning. Consider these meanings before presenting carnations to someone you love.

  • Red: Deep Love and Admiration
  • White: Pure Love and Good Luck
  • Pink: A Mother’s Love
  • Yellow: Disappointment or Rejection
  • Purple: Capriciousness
  • Striped: Rejection or Regret

Meaningful Botanical Characteristics of the Carnation Flower

Carnations are used in tea to relieve stress, fatigue, depression, insomnia and female hormonal imbalances. They are also used in massage oils to treat skin irritations or reduce the appearance of wrinkles. The ancient Aztec Indians used carnation tea as a diuretic and to treat chest congestion. The primary use of carnations in the United States is as a cut flower or in cosmetics.

Special Occasions for the Carnation Flowers

Carnations are appropriate for nearly any occasion, as they are a symbol of both love and distinction. Carnation in the school colors are often presented to graduates or recipients of academic and sports awards.  Pink carnations are popular for Mother’s Day while the green carnation is prized on St. Patrick’s Day.

The Carnation Flower’s Message Is…

The carnation flower’s message is as individual as the recipient is. While they all symbolize love, distinction and fascination, you can tailor your message by the color you choose.

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Carnation Flowers

Carnation Flowers