Dianthus Flowers: Delving into Their Rich Symbolism and Significance

Dianthus, a member of the carnation family, has long been associated with the gods and divinity. Known as the “divine flower,” carnations, Sweet Williams and China pinks have been cultivated across Asia, Europe, and North America for hundreds of years, from ancient Greece and Rome to Thomas Jefferson’s gardens at Monticello. To the Victorians, Dianthus stood for love, affection, admiration, and gratitude. Commonly used in wedding floral design, these lovely blooms are the perfect way to express how much you care. Here, we’ll take you through everything you need to know about dianthus flower meaning, plus learn about its history, origins, and cultural significance around the world. 

Ultimate Guide to Dianthus Flower Meaning and Symbolism

Dianthus Flower Meaning – The Essentials

Known as the “divine flower,” dianthus has long been associated with the gods and love and has been used as wedding flowers for millennia. During the Victorian era, the pink, red, and white blossoms symbolized love, affection, gratitude, and admiration. In the language of flowers, a gift of Dianthus can express how much you care for someone.

History & Origins of Dianthus Flowers

Dianthus has long been cultivated in regions of their native Asia and Europe. Some varieties have medicinal uses and play a role in Chinese traditional medicine.

Historical references to Dianthus stem back to the Greek botanist Theophrastus, also known as the father of botany. Theophrastus studied and illustrated plants in the 3rd century B.C. and gave Dianthus its genus name.

The Romans spread Dianthus around Europe. The plants had been introduced to England gardeners on a large scale by the 15th century. Records show that pinks were popular in Tudor and Edwardian eras when they were called names like pheasant-in-wine and gillyflower.

They soon traveled to North America, arriving with colonists in the 1670s. Records from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello show that D. chinensis were cultivated there in the 1700s.

Until the 1960s, annual Dianthus plants set seed and had a shorter growing season. That all changed when a hybrid between two non-seed-setting species was developed. The new plants offered a much longer blooming season and paved the way for the many Dianthus annuals for sale at garden centers across North America.

Etymological Meaning

Etymological Meaning

Dianthus comes from the Greek word for god, dios or “of Zeus.” Anthos is Greek for “flower.” The Greek botanist Theophrastus named the flowers in the 3rd century B.C.

The common name “pinks” comes from the petals’ filled edges, which look like they’ve been cut with pinking shears. Interestingly, some believe that the word “pink” itself comes from the color of the flowers, rather than the other way around.

The Meaning, Symbolism, and Cultural Significance of Dianthus Flowers

The Meaning, Symbolism, and Cultural Significance of Dianthus Flowers

Dianthus Flower Meaning in Ancient Times

Dianthus flowers have long valued meanings and symbolism across legends and folklore in many cultures. To the ancient Greeks, the dianthus flower was linked to the gods and divinity. The name dianthus stems from “of Zeus.” In ancient Rome, the flowers were tied to the god Jupiter. They were often included in wreaths, garlands, crowns, and other flowers used for religious or ceremonial purposes.

Dianthus Flower Symbolism in Eastern Cultures

In Korea, Dianthus are used to divine the future. Three flowers are placed on a young girl’s head. Whichever flower dies first offers a clue to the girl’s future path.

In Japan, flowers are valued for their spicy fragrance. There, the blooms are called hana-fuki which means to blow away flowers. It’s thought that picking dianthus, smelling its scent, and letting it be blown away will also carry off troubles.

Dianthus Flowers in Christianity

Dianthus Flowers in Christianity

To Christians, the carnation represents the suffering of Jesus and Mary. After the crucifixion, Mary shed tears. Carnations grew on the spots where her tears landed.

This legend may also underlie the use of carnations as the official flower of Mother’s Day, a tradition in the U.S. since the early 20th century. Today, carnations — especially white blooms — are a sign of a mother’s love.

In the Victorian era, dianthus stood for love, admiration, affection, and gratitude. A gift of dianthus was a way to show that you cared for — or loved — someone.

Dianthus Flower Symbolism in Art and Literature

The flowers show up in art. Some believe that D. barbatus, or sweet William, was named for William Shakespeare. In the Renaissance, dianthus was often used to represent love and a red carnation is often featured in paintings of the Madonna and child.

Pinks were also associated with love, as in this portrait by Rembrandt and a panel from the 1400s. More recent works featuring carnations are displayed at MOMA.

Dianthus Flower FAQs

Is Dianthus in the carnation family? 

The Dianthus genus is a member of the Caryophyllaceae family, which is commonly known as the carnation family. Carnations, sweet Williams, and pinks are all types of Dianthus.

What does Dianthus symbolize? 

Dianthus flowers have long been associated with the divine, from the ancient Greeks to early Christians who connected red carnations to the Virgin Mary. To the Victorians, dianthus signified love, admiration, affection, and gratitude.

Is dianthus poisonous? 

China pinks (D. chinensis) and sweet William (D. barbatus) are mildly toxic to humans and pets and cause skin irritation. Other Dianthus, such as carnations (D. carophyllus), have edible petals.

How long does a dianthus bloom? 

Most Dianthus varieties have a long bloom time that may last from spring through summer.

How many types of dianthus are there? 

It’s estimated that there are about 300 species within the Dianthus genus, and thousands of hybrids, cultivars, and varieties.

Wrap-up

Dianthus brings beautiful, long-lasting blossoms to the garden in shades of pink, red, white, and purple. When used in bouquets and arrangements, dianthus adds a pleasant, spicy fragrance to floral gifts. Long associated with love, affection, and divinity, these flowers are a perfect way to let someone know how much you care on an anniversary, Mother’s Day, or just because.


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