Species: Dianthus caryophyllus
Related Genera: Lychnis, Silene, Saponaria, Scleranthus, Stellaria
Names: Carnation, Clove Pink, Gillies, Jove’s Flower, Scaffold-Flower, Sops-in-Wine, Nelke (German)
Plant description: Perennial, hardy plant, cultivated variants grow to 80 cm tall. The lanceolate leaves are blue-green or silvery green and have a waxy surface. Carnation flowers from July to September. The flowers occur single or in cymes and typically have an intense sweet fragrance, though non-fragrant variants exist. The flower chalice has four to six green sepals. The petals are serrated or deeply slit and come in all colors. The original flower color is bright pink to purple, hence the plant is also called Clove-Pink. Because carnation has been cultivated for at least 2000 years, the plant’s origin is not exactly known. It is probably native to Mediterranean regions and grows wild in Greece, Italy and Sicily.
In the garden: Planted in a pot or in the bed, carnation requires a well-drained, neutral to slightly alkaline soil and plenty of sun and does not tollerate water-logging.
Propagation: Via cuttings or seed. Cuttings are taken in spring or autumn, from older plants and put in soil, and watered regularly until they get rooted. This way older plants are renewed after 3 years. Or sow 0,5-1 cm deep, either indoors in February and plant outdoors in May, or sow directly into the bed from July to August. Germination temperature: 16-20°C, germination time: 2-3 weeks
Uses: Carnation flowers are edible. The petals are added to salads, pies and sandwiches, whereby the petal base is removed, as it tastes rather bitter. The flowers are also used for flavoring beer, vine, vinegars and sauces and they are also candied. In Asia the dried flowers are drunk as tea. Added to hot water they appear to blossom anew. Carnation has also been used medicinally as a nerve tonic, against dyspepsia and fever. It has been used for at least 2000 years in perfumes and is still applied in aroma therapy.
In religious practice the fresh flowers and garlands are commonly placed on altars and around idols. Red flowers are used in matters of love and healing, white flowers for protection and purification, green flowers for money and fertility, purple flowers for passion and success, pink flowers for compassion and friendship, orange flowers for vitality and attraction (see also color symbolism above). The dried flowers are added to potpourris, sachets and incenses, also teas.
Folklore and symbolism: The name Dianthus is from the Greek words dios (“god”) and anthos (“flower”), and means literally “flower of god” or “flower of Zeus”. The color pink may be named after the flower, coming from the frilled edge of the flowers: the verb “pink” dates from the 14th century and means “to decorate with a perforated or punched pattern”. The original spelling of the flower’s name may have been “Coronation”, from its use for flower garlands and crowns. Garlands made of the flowers were worn as ceremonial crowns by the Greeks.
Carnations feature on the altars of many different saints and deities and are often given in condolence for the death of a loved one. In Christian iconography a carnation symbolized love and the Virgin Mother Mary. In later times carnations were also featured on paintings depicting marriages, in which the flower could also take on a more carnal meaning.
Carnations come in different colors, which are each attributed different meanings, e.g. white flowers stand for purity, love and luck. Light red flowers symbolize admiration, whilst dark red ones stand for deep love and affection. The pink carnation has the strongest relevance in the Christian tradition, as it was believed to have sprung from the tears Mary shed for Jesus, when he carried the Cross to Golgotha. The flower thus symbolizes the Passion of Christ and Mother Mary’s undying love.
It is speculated also that the name carnation derives from incarnacion and thus stands for the “Holy Spirit Incarnate” or the “God made flesh”. Hence carnations may also represent Christ’s resurrection and coming back into the flesh.
The name clove pink refers to the flower’s scent being similar to that of real cloves. The scent is a typical feature of older Dianthus varieties, and the esoteric oil has been used for at least 2000 years in perfume making. A decoction of the petals is also believed to serve as a nerve tonic. Besides, cloves were named so after their shape, which was likened to that of the nails driven into the body of Christ during his crucifixion. Hence people would also see a connection between the pink clove flower and the crucifixion nails.
During Elizabethan times wearing a carnation flower was believed to prevent an untimely death upon the scaffold.
The red carnation is a popular symbol of socialism and the labour movement and is traditionally used on International Workers’ Day (May Day). The Portuguese Carnation Revolution of 1974 (the military coup in Lisbon, which ended the reign of the fascist regime) is named after the flower, which was plugged into the barrels of the soldiers’ guns.
Carnation is the national flower of Spain, Monaco and Slovenia and is also the regional flower of the Balearic Islands.
Magical associations: Beauty, Compassion, Emotions, Energy, Healing, Luck, Masculinity, Power, Protection, Strength, Vitality
Planet, Element: Sun, Fire