Dianthus caryophyllus, most commonly known as Carnation or Clove Pink, is an iconic flower most notably seen in its use in bouquets, boutonnieres, or corsages. In contemporary American culture, they are an essential player in the floral industry, as well as the traditional flower of Mother’s Day. There is a fantastic variety in cultivars of Dianthus, as this Mediterranean-originating plant has been widely bred for hundreds of years. The genus name comes from the Greek word ‘dios’ (divine) and ‘anthos’ for ‘flower’, with the specific epithet translating from ‘karya’ for ‘walnut’ and ‘phyllon’ meaning ‘leaf.’ This species name is in fact the same as the genus for the spice cloves, which the fragrance of Dianthus is said to be reminiscent of; the naming of cloves references their similarity to the aromatic leaves of walnut trees. Likely the Greeks used these ‘flowers of the gods’ as coronation blossoms as well as decor— unlike the stunning array of Carnations we see available now, they were limited to the peach and pink shades of wild Dianthus caryophyllus. This plant is featured in Greek lore of the hunt goddess Diana, said to have maimed a shepherd on her way home from an unsuccessful trip. Where his blood fell, red-colored Carnations grew.
The clove-scent of these flowers was sometimes used as an imitation of the spice in Elizabethan England, and sometimes as a flavoring agent for ale or wine. Victorians saw them as a symbol of love or devotion. The petals' most common culinary application is to be candied for use in salads or desserts, or as a vibrant garnish. Clove pink has also been historically used in teas as a stress reliever and in treating nervous conditions.
Carnations are perennial in warmer climates, though they do not tolerate too much heat, nor too much moisture. However, they do not do well in shade, and require full sunshine in order to thrive. Butterflies, hummingbirds, and moths are fond of these showy frilled blossoms, and would be expected to stop by for a sip. This timeless flower, beloved for ages by humankind, will add both spice and a flourish of brightness to your garden.