Ah, the carnation: we’d be the first to admit it’s not the first flower we think of, if we’re talking hip young cool pretty things for the millennial trendsetters… but just as we overcame a certain disdain for roses and all they came to represent, so too do we harbor an increasing fondness for this frilly lil number, beloved of old ladies the world over. It's also January’s birth flower.
The original carnations, as found in nature, were bright pinkish-purple things, sweetly scented and sprouting out from a bed of slender, glaucous, greyish-green leaves. They’re most likely native to the Mediterranean region but anything more specific than that is hard to ascertain, thanks to their extensive cultivation for the past two millennia or so. That’s also the reason you can now find cultivars featuring all manner of colourful blooms – from bold reds and yellows to more serene shades of green and white.
As you might expect from a flower that’s been prized for its ornamental qualities for so long, the carnation is steeped in symbolism. Its formal name, dianthus, is derived from the Greek for ‘heavenly flower’ (a Christian legend has it that carnations first sprung from the Virgin Mary’s tears as she watched JC carrying his cross) and on the broadest level they stand for love. Just like the L word however, there are all different types of carnations delivering slightly different variations on this central theme. Thanks to the aforementioned biblical belief, pink carnations have come to stand for a mother’s undying love; light red carnations are for mere admiration, but cross over into darker shades of red and we’re talking deep love and affection. In the Netherlands, the white carnation has become a symbol of love for those veterans who formed a resistance during WWI – and in fact, the carnation is heavily associated with standing up to power in various parts of the world: in Portugal, bright red carnations represent the 1974 coup d’etat that overthrew the corporatist authoritarianism of the Estado Novo regime; that same shade is more generally seen as a symbol of socialism and the labour movement (along with the red rose), and has historically been used during demonstrations on May Day (International Workers’ Day).
Not that we’re doubting the average Floom customer’s appetite for glorious revolution, but you’ll no doubt be pleased to hear that carnations are great for a whole host of slightly less antagonistic public holidays… and Mother’s Day. Whether you’re celebrating Parents’ Day in Korea (pink carnations), St Patrick’s Day in Ireland (green cartnations), the general advancement of gay rights (green again, after Oscar Wilde’s love of them), or just any old wedding (white varieties obviously): make sure you bookmark this page for maximum heavy-handed symbolism!