Carnation Flower Meaning, Spiritual Symbolism, Color Meaning & More

The Carnation flower, or Dianthus Caryophyllus, refers to a number of grassy flowers, most of which are part of the Dianthus family. 

These flowers are universally known and loved, particularly by florists, who have an extraordinary range of colors to work with. These flowers are mostly grown in Europe and Asia and are used for various decorative and even cosmetic purposes.


The carnation may be common, but it’s far from dull. These extraordinary flowers are prolific, lively, and steeped in history. 

Ready to learn more about the carnation? Stick with us to discover its symbolism, cultural significance, facts and purposes, and more. 

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What Does The Carnation Flower Mean?

Carnations aren’t just a bouquet staple. Since the 1980s, these flowers have been sent to loved ones across the world to signify love, honor, and devotion. However, their meanings are much broader than this. Here are just a few of the most common meanings of the carnation flower. 

Etymological Meaning Of The Carnation Flower

As with most flowers, we can broaden our understanding of the carnation by examining its etymological meaning. 

‘Carnation’ is the common name for the Dianthus Caryophyllus, a type of flowering plant native to Europe. The carnation has been cultivated since ancient times, and it’s favored for its beauty and fragrant scent. 

The origins of the word are somewhat vague, however, there are theories around its creation. If we examine early spellings of the word, ‘carnation’ may be a corruption of the word ‘coronation’. 

The flower may also get its name from its bold, pink colorings, deriving from the 15th-century French word ‘carnation,’ meaning “a person’s color or complexion.” This 15th-century term has its roots in Latin and Italian; in Italian, the dialectal ‘carnagione’ meant “flesh color”, and in Late Latin, ‘carnationem’ meant “fleshiness.” 

In English, the word had been borrowed for two separate meanings. The first was to mean the “color of human flesh” in the 1500s, and in the 1700s, it was a term used in painting to describe the “representation of the flesh, nude, or undraped parts of a figure.”  

Symbolism Of The Carnation Flower

As we’ve established, carnations have been cultivated since ancient times. As such, these flowers have come to collect a broad range of symbolic meanings. Though these may differ between cultures, there are a few key things that carnations are believed to symbolize. 


The carnation is truly captivating to look at. These flowers come in various colors and shapes, but each one has its own distinct appearance, often characterized by bold colors and beautifully formed petals. 

For this reason, many people associate the carnation with fascination. These flowers have been included in paintings and poems for centuries, and as a gift, they can symbolize your admiration and fascination with the recipient. 


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Devotion And Love

In the Renaissance, many northern Italian Renaissance paintings used botanical imagery such as the carnation to represent devotion and divine love. It was particularly popular in paintings of Madonna and Child.

Dutch golden age painter Rembrandt and Renaissance painter Hans Memling were two artists celebrated for their use of the motif. 

Since the Renaissance, the carnation has become a popular symbol of devotion and love. Using these flowers in a bridal bouquet or as another form of wedding decor is a wonderful way to make a statement. 


If you’ve examined a carnation up close, you’ll notice that these flowers have a distinctive shape. They often come in the shape of bisexual flowers and may bloom simply or in a branched cluster. Their symmetry is radial and genuinely stands out from the crowd. 

This distinctive shape is just one factor that makes the carnation so unique. Because these flowers are different from other common flowers, the carnation is associated with distinction and individuality.

If you have a quirky, loveable person in your life, gifting them a bunch of carnations can be a great way to express your admiration for their character. 

Carnation Flower Color Meanings

As with most flowers, the meanings of the carnation can vary according to its color. So let’s take a closer look at some of the most common colors of the carnation and how they shape its meaning. 


Purple carnations are said to represent capriciousness. If you’re impulsive and unpredictable or know someone who is, the purple carnation may be the perfect flower to represent this personality type. 

The color purple also has strong associations with royalty and nobility. If you live a life of wealth and elegance or want to attract more abundance into your life, displaying a bouquet of purple carnations can be a sure-fire way to kickstart the law of attraction and build more abundant connections in your life. 


Light or baby pink carnations represent motherly love and gratitude. If you’re looking for the perfect gift to express your adoration for a mother figure, the light pink carnation is a wonderful flower to do so. 

Carnation flowers also come in dark pink. Dark pink carnations symbolize tenderness and fondness. You can give these to almost anyone in your life who you appreciate as a token of affection. 


White carnations are minimalist, pure, and beautiful. The color white has long associates with good luck, purity, cleanliness, and even sympathy. The white carnation would be suitable for an array of occasions, and if you don’t wish to gift one, it can create a stunning display in almost any living space. 


Although yellow is a joyous and uplifting color, the yellow carnation strongly associates with disappointment and rejection. These flowers can be acceptable to send at a time of sympathy or if you need to apologize to a loved one.


Light Red

Red often associated with passion and love. A light red carnation is a more subtle expression of love and can be a great way to express adoration or admiration for a loved one. 

Dark Red

If you want to convey more passion and emotion, opt for a dark red carnation steeped in associations with profound, passionate love. 

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Meaningful Botanical Characteristics Of The Carnation Flower

Many knows the carnation or Dianthus as the Peruvian lily, Ulster Mary, or Inca lily. The carnation comes from the Caryophyllaceae family and is available all year round. 

These flowers are one of the most versatile and abundant in the world. Despite only having a vase life of around 14 days, many often paired carnation with other flowers such as sunflowers, lilies, or large-headed roses to create a profound, awe-inspiring bouquet for almost any occasion. 

Carnations usually start to bloom around May time. However, these plants can last deep into the summer months, depending on the species and location.

Whether you want a statement flower for a gifting occasion or a striking addition to a flower bed or rock garden, you can use the carnation for various purposes. 

The carnation is most commonly in a light pink color. This plant is loosely-tufted with a wood-like appearance. Its notoriously tall stems stand at around 30 inches, and its fragrant flowers nestle beautifully between a backdrop of linear, gray-green foliage. 

The visual appeal of the carnation has made it a popular flower for years. Its history dates back to the Romans and ancient Greeks when they used it in decor and artwork.

Some physical attributes of the carnation have also built some strong associations with Christianity. 

Special Occasions For The Carnation Flowers

Are you looking for the perfect flower to complement your gifting occasion? You’ve come to the right place. There are few flowers as diverse and distinct as the carnation. So let’s explore some of the most common gifting occasions for the carnation below. 

Mothers Day

The carnation has strong associations with motherly love and affection. Choose the carnation if you want a unique flower to express your gratitude to your mother or a motherly figure. 

January Birthdays

Did you know that carnations are the official flower for the January birth month? If your loved one has a birthday in January, give them a beautiful display of carnations to celebrate their day with. 


Although the carnation has many positive associations, it also linked to grief and loss. Flowers are one of the most popular gifts to offer someone in a time of loss. If you want your flowers to have more of a personal touch, offer your loved one a bouquet of carnations instead. 

Anniversary Or Wedding

These flowers are also symbolic of love and passion. For example, if you have a wedding or anniversary coming up, why not show your love with the carnation?

Dark red carnations represent strong romantic love; so, if you’re looking for an alternative to the traditional rose, the carnation may be the display of affection you’re looking for. 

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Carnation Flower Cultural Significance

Like most flowers, the meanings of the carnation vary between cultures. So let’s take a look at some of the most profound cultural interpretations of the carnation. 


In Christianity, the carnation associated with Mary, Jesus, and motherly love. In one Christian legend, when Mary watched Jesus carried to the cross, carnations grew from her tears. 

Ancient Greece

People sometimes called carnations the Flowers of God. These associations stem from the meanings of Dianthus, the scientific name for the carnation. In Greek, Dios means “Zeus” and Anthos means “flower.” 


In France, the purple carnation is a traditional funeral flower. They usually give carnation as a condolence message to someone who’s recently lost a loved one. 

‘Carnation Day’ In The Netherlands

The 29th of June 1940 became known as ‘carnation day’ or ‘Anjerdag.’ On this day, the birthday of Prince Bernard, the Dutch people saw this as a pivotal moment, showing the Germans that national socialism does not interest them.

White carnations were signs of resistance against their German occupiers. 

Carnation Flower Facts

Now, let’s explore some of the most interesting facts about the carnation flower. 

  • The carnation is known as the ‘Flower of the Gods’
  • Carnation petals are edible
  • This flower is the official flower of the January birth month
  • Carnations require well-drained soil, that’s neutral or slightly acidic
  • At the University of Oxford, carnations are worn to the students’ exams. White is worn for the first exam, pink for the middle exams, and red for the final exam

Carnation Flower Uses

The Carnation also has a range of practical uses. Let’s take a look at some of the most common ones below. 

Decorative Purposes

People most often use the carnation for decorative purposes. It can be in bouquets, arrangements, corsages, and even boutonnieres, the floral decorations traditionally worn by men on their wedding day. 

Herbal Medicine 

People also use it for medicinal purposes. The carnation contains substances that help calm the nervous system. This can reduce inflammation and swelling. 

The carnation can also treat coronary disorders. People extract the oil of the carnation flower as it has therapeutic benefits. Some people use this oil to treat skin rashes like eczema and even facial wrinkles. 

Carnation tea is another popular medicinal treatment. Carnation tea can treat diarrhea, alleviate stomach aches, and treat fevers. It also help depression and anxiety. 

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Culinary Purposes

Carnation petals are edible. These petals can be made into candies, used to flavor fruits, or be added to soups and even salads. Carnation petals are even added to beer, wine, and other alcoholic drinks to add extra flavor. 

What Is The Symbolism Of A Carnation Flower Tattoo?

If we asked you to think of the most popular tattoo designs, the carnation probably isn’t one that springs to mind.

However, this flower comes in many shapes and sizes and has many meanings, making it a diverse tattoo design for any ink lover. So let’s explore the symbolism of the carnation flower tattoo below. 

Love And Admiration

The carnation is a universal symbol of love and admiration. If you’re looking for a tattoo to signify your love for yourself or someone else, the carnation is an excellent choice.

You may prefer to get this design in either deep or light red, depending on the nature of the love you want to symbolize. 


The carnation also signifies grief and loss. If you’ve recently lost a loved one, the carnation can be a beautiful tattoo design to commemorate your person. 

Fascination And Distinction

Are you a quirky or unique person? Do you find beauty in everything around you and constantly seek out new experiences or thrills? If you want a tattoo that captures your personality, the carnation is an excellent choice. 

Final Thoughts

The carnation is one of the most recognizable flowers in the world. If you’ve ever received flowers, the chances are, you’ve had a carnation or two in your bunch. 

These beautiful flowers symbolize many things, from love and hope to grief and loss. Whatever the occasion, the carnation flower is the ideal way to show your feelings, add some color to your home, or express your individuality through a tattoo. 

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