Carnations and roses are two of the world’s most recognized flowers. Both of these blooms feature heavily in event planning and gift giving.
Despite being equally well-known, these two blooms have critical differences in care and symbolism. That leads to the question: is one better than the other? Here’s everything you need to know about carnations vs. roses and which is better for your needs.
Comparing Carnations vs. Roses
|Classification||Dianthus caryophyllus||Rosa L.|
|Alternative Names||Clove pink, gillyflower, Flower of the Gods||N/A|
|Description||Over 150 species of roses with different subgenuses and appearances. Typically grow as bushes or shrubs. Flowers range from under one inch to 7 inches wide. Wildflowers have 4-5 petals, while cultivated roses have 10-12. Colors include dark purple, white, pink, orange, yellow, and everything in between. Many roses have prickles, known commonly as thorns.||They are one of the most common cut flowers used by florists for home decor, weddings, and funerals due to their range, minimal maintenance, and affordability.|
|Uses||They are one of the most common cut flowers florists use for home decor, weddings, and funerals due to their range, minimal maintenance, and affordability.||The flower is most associated with love and romance. One of the most common cut flowers florists use for special events and weddings.|
|Growth Tips||Start seeds inside eight weeks before the last frost. Transplant to mineral-rich, well-draining soil after the frost has passed. Plant in full sun in USDA Zones 6-10. Water frequently after planting and during drought periods. Use plant food for extra nutrients.||Growing roses from seed can take years. Gardening experts recommend starting from a seedling or transplant. USDA Zone depends on species. Roses require well-draining soil, frequent watering, and morning sun with afternoon shade.|
|Interesting Features||Carnations have been around for thousands of years. They’ve recently gotten a bad reputation for being a “cheap” flower, though there’s been a revival in the event industry in recent years.||Roses are one of the oldest, most well-known flowers. There are now thousands of cultivars and hybrids.|
The Key Differences Between Carnations vs. Roses
Beyond being types of flowers, carnations, and roses are mostly unrelated. One key difference to note is that carnations are a species with many cultivars and varieties. Roses are a genus with hundreds of species and thousands of cultivars and hybrids.
Carnations tend to be lower maintenance, more affordable, and longer-lasting when cut. These features led to the perception that carnations are of lower quality than roses. In reality, roses have had better marketing over the past 50 years.
Carnations and roses also have similar symbolism. Both are associated with love and devotion, with the specifics contingent on the color of the bloom.
Carnations vs. Roses: Classification
Carnations are classified as Dianthus caryophyllus. Dianthus is a combination of the Greek words “dios” and “anthos,” which roughly translates to The Flower of the Gods. The Ancient Greek words for “nut” and “leaf” form the term caryophyllus, likely referring to the joints connecting the stems and leaves of the carnation.
Roses belong to the genus Rosa, with Rosa meaning “rose” in Latin. They are part of the wider Rosaceae family, which includes strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries. The Rose genus comprises four subgenera: Hulthemia, Hesperrhodos, Platyrhodon, and Rosa. Different sections further classify members of the Rosa subspecies, based on their origin, colors, and forms.
Carnations vs. Roses: Origin
Carnations originate in Europe, with the earliest records dating back 2000 years. Many believe the Mediterranean region, especially the Pyrenees mountains, to be the central origin of carnations, though their exact origins remain unclear. Today, no wild versions survive; farmers cultivate all carnations.
The earliest written records of roses date back 5000 years in Central Asia. They’re present in writings from Confucius and early records of Cleopatra and Mark Anthony. There are now thousands of cultivars and subspecies, many of which no longer exist.
Carnations vs. Roses: Description
Carnations display a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. The species generally features frilly petals and wiry stems with knobby joints that connect to the leaves. These leaves, long and pointed, grow alongside the stem. While carnations appear in all-natural hues from deep purple to pure white, people can also dye them using food coloring to achieve bold, unnatural colors.
As roses are such a large genus of flowers, there’s no one description to fit them. Most wild roses have five petals, though a few species have four. This vastly differs from cultivated roses, which typically have 10-12 (or more) petals. Similarly, many wild roses have rose hips, while cultivated species do not. Most roses naturally have prickles or thorns, though these features have been bred out in some cultivars. Colors range from white to nearly black, with almost all shades in between.
Carnations vs. Roses: Uses
Both carnations and roses frequent heavily in events and gifting. Both of these ancient blooms are rife with symbolism related to their coloration, making them both a common gift.
Carnations have recently made a cultural comeback after years of stigma as a “cheap” or “tacky” flower. With over 300 varieties, florists are educating event planners about the different options outside the traditional white or pink frilly “filler” flowers. Many carnation species look similar to roses but boast longer lifespans after cutting and a significantly more affordable price tag.
Roses are attributed to being the overarching symbol of love and romance. They’re also popular for funerals due to the symbolism of shades other than red. Many gardeners prefer to grow rose bushes, either as prize flowers or pollinator attractors.
It’s a common misconception that roses are more symbolically meaningful than carnations. However, they share many of the same meanings based on the color of the bloom. For example, deep red roses and carnations both represent love and devotion. White is a symbol of purity. It’s important to note a few key differences, however. Many associate yellow carnations with rejection, but they consider yellow roses as symbols of friendship — a crucial distinction when gifting these flowers!
Chefs use both carnations and roses in their dishes. While they often candy or pickle carnations for garnishing in upscale cuisine, roses enjoy broader culinary use. They feature in jams, baked items, salads, and other dishes.
Rose petals are also popular for creating natural cosmetics, including rosewater. The use of rosewater dates back to the ancient Roman baths when the upper class would add petals to the water for fragrance.
Wild carnations traditionally had a subtle, spicy aroma that has been bred out over the years. Many roses still have their iconic floral perfume, which also features heavily in the cosmetic industry.
Carnations vs. Roses: Growth Tips
Carnations are relatively easy to grow and care for. Start seeds inside six to eight weeks before the last frost. Plant in full sun in USDA Zones 6-10 when the risk of frost has passed. Carnations prefer mineral-rich, well-draining soil. Use plant food or organic matter to support their growth. Water frequently after planting until the roots are established and during drought periods.
Roses are notoriously difficult to grow from seed. Some rose plants take years to bloom. This leads many aspiring gardeners to purchase transplants from established gardening centers. The care recommendations and USDA zones vary depending on the rose species. Choose a rose species that best suits your climate, and take some time to research your specific type of rose for guidance.
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- University of Missouri, Available here: https://ipm.missouri.edu/meg/2008/2/Rose-A-Brief-History/