Carnations 101

  • Posted on 06/29/2016 by Laura

The colors and meanings of carnations are almost as varied as roses.

  • General: fascination, distinction, love
  • Red: deep romantic love, passion
  • Green: worn on St. Patrick’s day, secret symbol of the followers of Oscar Wilde
  • White: sweet and lovely, innocence, pure love, faithfulness
  • Pink: a woman’s love, a mother’s love
  • Yellow: rejection, disdain, disappointment
  • Purple: capriciousness, whimsical, changeable, unreliability
  • Mauve: dreams of fantasy
  • Striped: refusal
  • Solid color: yes, affirmative

The general carnation’s meaning is fascination. And when you hear about all the legends associated with carnations, you’ll think so too.

The Virgin Mary Legend

The first legend about how carnations came to be is from the tears of the Virgin Mary. Apparently as Jesus Christ was carrying his cross to his ultimate crucifixion, his mother shed tears in her undying love for her son. The ground where her tears fell sprouted pink carnations. Pink carnations are now associated with the undying love of a mother.

Diana, the Huntress Legend

Some believe that the name of the carnation comes from the Latin word, “carnis,” which means flesh. It was named this because of its color association to flesh. There is even a legend to explain this naming. The goddess Diana fell in love with a shepherd boy she encountered in the woods. The boy, however, turned her down. In a fit of rage, Diana tore his eyes from their sockets and cast them aside. From the land where they fell, carnations bloomed.

Fun Facts

Despite the flowers association mostly with pleasant ideas, the country of France reads them as bad omens. They symbolize bad luck and misfortune in their culture; the purple carnation is traditionally used as a funeral flower.

At the University of Oxford, carnations are worn to end of the year exams. A white carnation is worn during the first exam, pink are for the in-between, and red for the last exam. This tradition began relatively recently, in the 1990s.


Because carnations are considered edible, they are very often used in decorating cakes and ornamenting ice cubes. They are often used to flavor salads. The petals have been used in the French liqueur, Chartreuse, since the 17th century.


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