University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Winter News Article 

Consider Carnations

By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor

Ailene King, Student Intern
University of Vermont

Looking for the perfect flower for a winter bouquet or arrangement? Then consider carnations. They are inexpensive, last well, come in almost every color, and can be found everywhere from the grocery store to a flower shop. For these reasons they are among the most popular cut flowers.

The carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus) is native to Eurasia and means "flower of the gods." It is named for the Greek dios, referring to the god Zeus, and anthos, meaning flower. Its first known historical reference is its use in garlands by Greeks and Romans. The first carnations were imported to this country in 1852, a shipment of French carnations to Long Island.

In the United States, the production of carnations was centered in the Northeast until the middle of the 20th century. One of the most popular series of all time, the Sim series, was named after Maine breeder William Sim who first bred these in 1938.

Production then moved west to Colorado and southern California, which have the high light that carnations need to grow best. Today most of the world production is in Bogota, Columbia, with some production still in those two western states. Additionally, carnations are produced in Israel, Kenya, and Spain. So chances are, the carnations you buy locally really are international travelers!

Once used mainly in prom boutonnieres and sparse bouquets, this humble flower has suddenly bloomed into new popularity. Carnations are attractive both as a single bloom in a bud vase, or as a mass of blooms in a larger vase or bouquet. You can mix and match colors, or stick to carnations of the same color, arranging several bunches together in a single vase.

For a unique display, hang orbs or balls of carnations from the ceiling. You will need a large ball of florists' foam (tie several blocks together, then shape with a knife) and a long piece of ribbon. Attach the ribbon to the top of the foam ball with a large, straight pin. Soak the foam so it's nice and wet. Then cut the flower stems to about one and one-half inches, and simply push the stems into the foam until the ball is completely covered.

The strongly fragrant flowers are available in many colors. The most popular colors are red, white, and pink. You also can find bicolors with different colored petal edges. In addition, white flowers are often dyed to create solids like green, blue, or black.

You can create magic at home, if you'd like, changing white flowers to orange, purple, or yellow, for example, with the use of food coloring. Just add a few drops to a glass of water, add the bloom, and let it absorb the new color.

Miniature or spray carnations have sprays of five to six flowers per stem with smaller blooms. Some of the most common cultivars include 'Elegance' with rose-pink edged white flowers, 'Exquisite' with violet edged white flowers, 'Rony' with scarlet flowers, and 'Tibet' with white flowers.

Whether it's yellow you want for a mid-winter boost, red for your valentine, green for St. Patrick's Day, or even a combination like purple, green and yellow for Mardi Gras, there are carnations for you. Stop by your local flower shop and take a look!

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