Dianthus caryophyllus, commonly known as the carnation or clove pink, is a species of Dianthus. It is probably native to the Mediterranean region but its exact range is unknown due to extensive cultivation for the last 2,000 years.
Carnations were mentioned in Greek literature 2,000 years ago. The term dianthus was coined by Greek botanist Theophrastus, and is derived from the Ancient Greek words for divine ("dios") and flower ("anthos"). Some scholars believe that the name "carnation" comes from "coronation" or "corone" (flower garlands), as it was one of the flowers used in Greek ceremonial crowns. Others think the name stems from the Latin "caro" (genitive "carnis") (flesh), which refers to the original colour of the flower, or incarnatio (incarnation), which refers to the incarnation of God made flesh. The legend that explains the name is that Diana the Goddess came upon the shepherd boy and took a liking to him. But the boy, for some reason, turned her down. Diana ripped out his eyes and threw them to the ground where they sprouted into the dianthus flower.
Although originally applied to the species Dianthus caryophyllus, the name carnation is also often applied to some of the other species of Dianthus, and more particularly to garden hybrids between D. caryophyllus and other species in the genus.
Dianthus caryophyllus is a herbaceous perennial plant growing up to 80 cm ( in) tall. The leaves are glaucous greyish green to blue-green, slender, up to 15 cm (6 in) long. The flowers are produced singly or up to five together in a cyme; they are around 3-5 cm (-2 in) diameter, and sweetly scented; the original natural flower color is bright pinkish-purple, but cultivars of other colors, including red, white, yellow and green, have been developed. The fragrant, hermaphrodite flowers have a radial symmetry. The four to six surrounding the calyx, egg-shaped, sting-pointed scales leaves are only ¼ as long as the calyx tube.
The wild carnation is found in the Mediterranean countries of Croatia, Greece, Italy (including Sicily and Sardinia), and Spain.
Carnations require well-drained, neutral to slightly alkaline soil, and full sun. Numerous cultivars have been selected for garden planting. Typical examples include 'Gina Porto', 'Helen', 'Laced Romeo', and 'Red Rocket'. They are used for medical purposes, such as for upset stomach and fever. Their fragrance was historically used for vinegar, beer, wine , sauces and salads.
Crossbreeding D. caryophyllus with D. capitatus results in a hybrid that is resistant to bacterial wilt from Paraburkholderia caryophylli. However, the flower is less attractive and so more breeding and backcrossing is needed to improve the flower.
Carnation cultivars with no fragrance are often used by men as boutonnières or "button holes".
For the most part, carnations express love, fascination, and distinction, though there are many variations dependent on color.
Carnations are often worn on special occasions, especially Mother's Day and weddings. In 1907, Anna Jarvis chose a carnation as the emblem of Mother's Day because it was her mother's favourite flower. This tradition is now observed in the United States and Canada on the second Sunday in May. Ann Jarvis chose the white carnation because she wanted to represent the purity of a mother's love. This meaning has evolved over time, and now a red carnation may be worn if one's mother is alive, and a white one if she has died.
In Korea, carnations express admiration, love and gratitude. Red and pink carnations are worn on Parents Day (Korea does not separate Mother's Day or Father's Day, but has Parents Day on 8 May). Sometimes, parents wear a corsage of carnation(s) on their left chest on Parents Day. Carnations are also worn on Teachers Day (15 May).
Red carnations are worn on May Day as a symbol of socialism and the labour movement in some countries, such as Austria, Italy, and successor countries of the former Yugoslavia. The red carnation is also the symbol of the Carnation Revolution in Portugal.
Green carnations are for St. Patrick's Day and were famously worn by the Irish writer Oscar Wilde. The green carnation thence became a symbol of homosexuality in the early 20th century, especially through the book The Green Carnation and Noël Coward's song, "We All Wear a Green Carnation" in his operetta, Bitter Sweet.
In communist Czechoslovakia and in Poland in times of the People's Republic of Poland, carnations were traditionally given to women on the widely celebrated Women's Day, together with commodities that were difficult to obtain due to the countries' communist system, such as tights, towels, soap and coffee.
At the University of Oxford, carnations are traditionally worn to all examinations; white for the first exam, pink for exams in between, and red for the last exam. One story explaining this tradition relates that initially a white carnation was kept in a red inkpot between exams, so by the last exam it was fully red; the story is thought to originate in the late 1990s.
Carnations are the traditional first wedding anniversary flower.
The carnation is the national flower of Spain, Monaco, and Slovenia, and the provincial flower of the autonomous community of the Balearic Islands. The state flower of Ohio is a scarlet carnation, which was introduced to the state by Levi L. Lamborn. The choice was made to honor William McKinley, Ohio Governor and U.S. President, who was assassinated in 1901, and regularly wore a scarlet carnation on his lapel.
Carnations do not naturally produce the pigment delphinidin, thus a blue carnation cannot occur by natural selection or be created by traditional plant breeding. It shares this characteristic with other widely sold flowers like roses, lilies, tulips, chrysanthemums and gerberas.
Around 1996 a company, Florigene, used genetic engineering to extract certain genes from petunia and snapdragon flowers to produce a blue-mauve carnation, which was commercialized as Moondust. In 1998 a violet carnation called Moonshadow was commercialized. As of 2004 three additional blue-violet/purple varieties have been commercialized.