Flowers, perhaps more than any other part of the natural world, are fascinating because of the many layers of meaning people have shrouded them in throughout history.
There is a whole sub-category of etiquette surrounding which flowers are appropriate to give at what times, and to whom. The unending rules surrounding something so simple as a flower can be dizzying.
Another aspect of flower lore concerns the designated flowers for each month of the year. January’s official flower is the carnation.
Carnations are a perennial herb native to the Mediterranean region. Carnation stems can grow to be at much as 30 inches tall, and the flowers are 2-3 inches wide with a large number of sweet smelling petals. Their natural color is a bright pinkish-purple, but other colors have been cultivated, including red, white, yellow, and green. Their formal name, dianthus, comes from Greek for “heavenly flower.”
Carnations are said to be primarily a symbol of love, though the meaning can differ depending on the color. In France, carnations are the traditional funeral flower, and are it is considered bad luck to give them for any other occasion.
The leaves of carnations were once mixed with wine to control fevers, while the flowers were believed to be an effective antidote some poisons. The plant was also once popularly used to add flavor to beer and wine.
One legend about the origin of carnations states that the plants sprang up from the tears of the Virgin Mary as she watched Jesus carrying his cross to Calvary. This is probably why pink carnations are, to this day, the symbol of motherly love.