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January Flower Lore: Carnations

Learn more about January's official flower, the carnation.

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.

What Are Carnations?

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.

Carnation Legends and Lore

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.

Weigh In:

Do you think of carnations as a “throwaway” flower? Tell us in the comments below.

Jaime McLeod is a longtime journalist who has written for a wide variety of newspapers, magazines, and websites, including She enjoys the outdoors, growing and eating organic food, and is interested in all aspects of natural wellness.

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How can you “throw away” a lovely flower that also smells so sweet-spicy. Any gift of flowers is so wonderful and should be respected and appreciated for the thought that generated the gift I always appreciate any living plant or cut flower bouquet gifted to me….

Donna Wolf

I love carnations. They last forever and can make a stunning bouquet .


Carnations are my favorite flower! They have a cool, subtle scent that doesn’t bother my allergies.

Josephine Parker

They have always been a favorite with me. I love the crisp sweet scent.


I absolutely love carnations! I love their spicy fragrance. If I got a bouquet of nothing but carnations as long as they had that heavenly fragrance I would be in 7th heaven!


Carnations and daisy last longer than any other flowers.
They are inexpensive to purchase and will put a smile on someone’s face just the same

Sylvia McCrone

IF everyone in America owned a red car, we would be a red carnation.

Pearl McCarthy

Love carnations. Buy them for myself quite often. They are cheap, last for weeks, pretty but the main reason I get them is their scent.


I love love carnations! Not only are they beautiful, they’re strong and true! They remind me of true love, you can always count on them, and never leave any doubt as to what you’re getting!

Cheryl Centenio

Carnations are beautiful and especially paired with other flowers such as roses. I love the carnation’s fragrance.


I love them ,they are so beautiful.

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