Carnations can be one too many things all at once. Not only are these beautiful blooms popular cut flowers worldwide, but they are also one of the oldest ornamentals in cultivation. Carnations are known as the flowers for all occasions, a symbol of unrequited love and fascination, and lastly, “the flowers of the Gods.” What’s more, the carnation is also Ohio’s official state flower. In this guide, I’ll run through everything you need to know about the history and origins of the carnation flower’s significance to the great state of Ohio. 

Why the Carnation is Ohio’s State Flower

About Carnation Flowers 

Let’s start with the basics: What are carnation flowers, and why are they so popular? 

Carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus), or clove pinks, are herbaceous flowering plants belonging to the Dianthus plant genus of the Pinks botanical family. 

Most types of carnations are perennials that can grow up to about 18 inches tall and feature attractive and fragrant flowers in various colors. Most carnation flower colors include pink, red, purple, yellow, and white, while other varieties feature bicolor or tricolor hues.  

A popular choice as cut flowers, the “flower of the Gods” is often used in bouquets, floral arrangements, corsages, and boutonnières. It holds several meanings and symbolism as well. The pink carnation, in particular, symbolizes Mother’s Day and gratitude. On the other hand, the dark red carnations symbolize love and affection. 

How the Carnation Became Ohio’s Official State Flower

How the Carnation Became Ohio’s Official State Flower

Carnations leave a mark in the history of the United States of America through Ohio. In February 1904, Ohio adopted the carnation, particularly the Scarlet Carnation, as its State Flower in honor of the late Ohio-born President William McKinley.

Although the adaptation of the scarlet carnation as Ohio’s official state flower happened three years after the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901, the 25th President of the United States still played a considerable part and became instrumental in the decision.

While the carnation flower symbolizes love, reverence, and respect, it holds another meaning for President McKinley. He often wore one on the lapel of his jacket as he perceived scarlet carnation as a personal good luck charm. It started when a good friend, congressional opponent, and amateur horticulturist Dr. Levi L. Lamborn gifted him one during a debate in 1876. He won that congressional race and started wearing the flower throughout his political career.

When he was the US President, McKinley kept the White House filled with vases of carnations. Even on the day of his assassination on September 14, 1901, the carnation remained relevant. The President was at an official event when he gifted a red carnation he was wearing to a 12-year-old girl visitor moments before he was gunned down.

Carnation Flowers and the State of Ohio

Carnation Flowers and the State of Ohio

Carnation flowers may not be native to Ohio, but they remain relevant in the Buckeye State in many ways up to this day. Aside from being the official state flower of Ohio, the significance of carnations are not as simple as one may think. Here are some fun facts about carnations and how these flowers embody the state of Ohio.

  • The scarlet carnation, red carnation, or as others referred to as the Lamborn red carnation, was adopted as Ohio’s official state flower on February 3, 1904.
  • Carnation flowers are widely popular throughout Ohio. Sights of carnations planted along state highways, roadways, and public areas can easily be seen.
  • Fields of carnations are planted all over Ohio, including The Ohio State University. 
  • The Ohio State University’s official colors are red and gray, which are a nod to carnation flowers. Within the vicinity of the university are beds of carnations. 
  • Dayton, Ohio native Lewis G. Reynolds founded the Carnation League of America in 1903. To honor President McKinley, the league encouraged all Americans to wear red carnations on January 29th, which is the President’s birthday.  
  • Dr. Levi Leslie Lamborn was a prominent Ohio resident, politician, and horticulturist. He got interested in breeding carnations and even imported carnation seedlings from France. He successfully propagated one, which resulted in the famed “Lamborn Red” carnation.  
  • Alliance, Ohio, the hometown of Dr. Levi L. Lamborn, is known as the “Carnation City.” It celebrates the Carnation Festival annually every August to honor the famed state flower. 
  • In 1892, Dr. L. L. Lamborn published a book on American Carnation Culture.
  • Red carnation’s popularity further increases during the State Homecoming and prom seasons as people in Ohio use the state flower for corsages, bouquets, and boutonnières.

Carnation Flowers and Ohio FAQs: 

Is the carnation native to Ohio?

No, the carnation is not native to Ohio. It is believed to have originated in the Mediterranean region.

What is the historical significance of the carnation in Ohio?

The selection of the carnation as the state flower of Ohio is tied to its association with President William McKinley. McKinley was from Ohio and often wore a red carnation as a boutonniere, which became his political symbol.

When was the carnation designated as the state flower of Ohio?

The carnation was officially designated as the state flower of Ohio in 1904.

Are there specific varieties of carnations associated with Ohio?

While no specific varieties of carnations are associated exclusively with Ohio, the red is particularly associated with the state due to its connection with President McKinley.

Are there any annual carnation festivals or events in Ohio?

Yes, there are carnation festivals and events held in Ohio to celebrate the state flower. The city of Alliance, Ohio, hosts an annual Carnation Festival, which includes parades, concerts, and other activities.

Can the carnation be found growing wild in Ohio?

While the carnation is not native to Ohio, it can be cultivated in gardens and greenhouses throughout the state.

Can I find carnations growing in Ohio’s natural environment?

Carnations are not typically found growing in the wild in Ohio’s natural environment, as they are cultivated plants primarily grown in gardens and nurseries.

Is the carnation still widely recognized and celebrated as the state flower of Ohio today?

Yes, the carnation remains the official state flower of Ohio and continues to be recognized and celebrated as a symbol of the state’s heritage and floral pride.

Wrapping Up: The State Flower of Ohio – The Scarlet Carnation

For most, carnations have gained global recognition for being excellent cut flowers. Thanks to their large blooms that are not only eye-catching but also highly versatile. But in Ohio, this popular ornamental plays another crucial role. 

The carnation flower is the Buckeye State’s official state flower. The state legislature’s adaptation in 1904 was to honor the late US President William McKinley, who often wore red carnations on his jackets for good luck.

For more, see our in-depth guide to the best companion plants for carnations, and carnation plant toxicity to pets.

Editorial Director | Full Bio | + posts

Andrew is the Editorial Director at Petal Republic. He holds a BSc degree in Plant Sciences and has trained professionally at leading floristry schools in London and Paris. In amongst overseeing a global editorial team, Andrew's a passionate content creator around all things flowers, floral design, gardening, and houseplants.

Author Andrew Gaumond

Andrew is the Editorial Director at Petal Republic. He holds a BSc degree in Plant Sciences and has trained professionally at leading floristry schools in London and Paris. In amongst overseeing a global editorial team, Andrew's a passionate content creator around all things flowers, floral design, gardening, and houseplants.

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