If you’ve ever seen a white carnation in a flower arrangement or growing in a garden, you may have wondered about the right occasion to present one to a special person in your life. You may also have wondered if it’s suitable for events such as weddings or graduations. Of course, you may just be wondering what it symbolizes and where it came from. If you have questions about any of the above, you’re in luck! Read on to find out all about the white carnation including its meaning, symbolism, and when to gift or use it.
White Carnation Scientific Classification and Nomenclature
The scientific name for the white carnation is Dianthus caryophyllus. The word dianthus comes from the Ancient Greek words dios (divine) and anthos (flower). This roughly means “flower of the gods” or “flower of love.” By contrast, the word caryophyllus comes from the Latin corona-ae (wreath, garland, chaplet, or crown). It may also derive from the Latin words caro (flesh, which refers to the color) or incarnatio (incarnation, as in Christianity’s central tenet: the incarnation of God in the form of Jesus).
Alternate names for flowers within this species include “grenadine” and “clove pink.” Like all carnations, the white carnation belongs to the genus Dianthus, which comprises about 340 species of carnations and pinks as well as sweet William.
White Carnation Appearance and Scent
As its name suggests, the white carnation has ruffled, snowy white petals. Its leaves are slender with a glaucous greyish-green or bluish-green color. This showy flower makes a striking addition to any bouquet or garden. Like all carnations, it gives off a subtly spicy fragrance similar to that of cloves. This has given rise to the nickname “clove pink.” Some say that the fragrance reminds them of a mixture of cinnamon and nutmeg.
White Carnation History
The carnation has a long history with roots in mythology and religion. Originally, the flower only produced pink or peach petals in the wild. However, since then horticulturalists have produced a myriad of different variations, including the white cultivar. Some people even dye the petals of white carnations before gifting them.
In Ancient History
The carnation is mentioned in Greek literature as far back as 2,000 years ago. The Greeks and Romans used to weave them into garlands. One of the earliest references appears in the myth of Diana and the shepherd boy. The goddess of animals and hunting either fell in love with the shepherd, which went unrequited, or else she was angry that his flute-playing scared away her prey during a hunt. In both versions, she tore out his eyes, killing him in the process. Red carnations then bloomed from his eye sockets as an expression of her remorse. In ancient Rome, the carnation was also a symbol of victory.
In Christian History
Christians have long revered the pink carnation as an expression of motherly devotion. According to Christian legend, the carnation first appeared during Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. As the Virgin Mary wept at the sight of her dying son, pink carnations bloomed where her tears fell.
In Modern History
Carnations have acquired a place of honor in modern society. Anna Jarvis, the creator of Mother’s Day, contributed to this trend when she declared the carnation to be the official Mother’s Day flower. On May 10, 1908, she sent hundreds of white carnations to her hometown church in West Virginia to mark the occasion. White carnations were her late mother’s favorite flower. The carnation is also the official flower of Spain, Slovenia, and Monaco as well as the state of Ohio.
White Carnation Meaning and Symbolism
White carnations mean and symbolize a number of different things:
- Purity, innocence, or sweetness
- Pure love (e.g., a mother’s love)
- Good luck and prosperity
- War veterans in the Netherlands: In the Netherlands, the white carnation represents the country’s WWII veterans as well as resistance to the war.
- Official birth flower of January (along with the snowdrop): The showy white petals are an appropriate symbol of the snowy month of January.
Proper Occasions on Which to Give a White Carnation
The white carnation is an appropriate gift for a number of occasions:
- Mother’s Day: The carnation is the official flower of Mother’s Day, making this the perfect flower to honor the maternal bond. Although different types of carnations are suitable, such as red and pink, the white variety is thought to bring mothers good luck on their special day. Alternatively, it can be used to honor a mother who has passed away.
- Weddings: This flower is a great way to symbolize the purity of the couple’s love as well as to wish them good luck in their life together. In addition to their sweet meaning, carnations are also durable flowers that can stay fresh for many hours without water, making them suitable for a long day of wedding festivities.
- Expressing affection: These showy flowers are a sweet way to express pure, simple affection for someone special, regardless of the day or season.
- Wishing someone good luck: If you want to wish someone good luck or express your desire for their prosperity, a white carnation is the perfect gift. This means they are also a fantastic choice for occasions like graduation, getting a new job, or anticipating the arrival of a new baby.
- Honoring WWII veterans in the Netherlands: If you want to honor WWII veterans or resistance to the war while in the Netherlands, wearing or giving a white carnation is the appropriate choice.
- Celebrating a January birthday: White carnations are the official birth flower of January, making them the natural choice for celebrating a January birthday.
Similar Flowers to the White Carnation
Here are a few other types and cultivars similar to the white carnation:
- Red carnation
- Pink carnation
- Yellow carnation
- Green carnation
- Purple carnation
The next time you want to express pure affection for someone or wish them good luck, consider giving them a white carnation. This is especially appropriate on Mother’s Day. Keep in mind that this flower’s durable nature also makes it great for full-day events such as weddings.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Robson90/Shutterstock.com
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