The Dianthus Genus

Part of the pinks plant family, Dianthus contains around 340 different species of flowers, hailing from many parts of the world including Asia, Europe, and arctic North America.

They also enjoy a lot of popularity in cultivation, being one of the most popular flowers for Mother’s Day and as gifts in general, as well as being a staple in many gardens.

Dianthus At A Glance

Most species within the dianthus genus are perennials, but you also get biennials, annuals, and even subshrubs. 

The majority of dianthus produce clusters of fantastically fragrant flowers at the end of each stem, in a range of colors including pink,  white, purple, and red, or a combination of these.

The foliage is often as toothed or ruffled as the flowers themselves, with some species having leaves that are deeply cut into lobes, while others have broad, flat leaves.

The plants themselves can be anywhere between 10cm to 3 feet tall, depending on the species.

There are many types of dianthus to choose from, with different growth habits, colors, and forms, meaning there is a type suitable for most gardens.

One of the hardiest types is the border carnation, which grows up to 24 inches tall, producing very large flowers.

If you’d prefer plenty of color in a ground cover plant, the alpine pink is a good option, forming mat-like clumps of flowers.

The flowers are incredibly popular for cutting gardens and bouquets, not just for their beauty but also for their clove-like scent, not to mention their longevity in vases. 

Dianthus Name Meaning

The genus name is a combination of two Greek words, dios, and anthos, translating to flower of Zeus.

There is also some speculation as to where the common name pinks comes from.

It’s believed that the color may take its name from the flower, as the verb refers to frilled edges or a perforated pattern, which can also describe the appearance of the flower’s petals.

You may also see these gorgeous plants referred to as carnations.

The Symbolism Behind Dianthus Flowers

As you might guess from the genus name, there is a lot of symbolism surrounding these enigmatic and tiny flowers.

To make things even more interesting, it can change depending on who you speak to or what cultural lens you might be looking through.

It represents affection, love, desire, admiration, and gratitude.

To some people, it symbolizes peace, tranquility, the stability found in family ties, or pride.

In two different extremes, dianthus flowers can represent death, or life, as they are often used to celebrate people, both in weddings and in funerals.

Dianthus Uses

Throughout history, carnations have had many applications. In terms of herbal remedies, carnations can be used to help alleviate skin complaints, tension, exhaustion, digestive problems, imbalances, and insomnia.

It’s fascinating to note that they remain a very popular subject in art of all forms, and some of the oldest, most striking still life paintings contain some form of dianthus.

The Ancient Greeks would regularly incorporate dianthus flowers into crowns worn in ceremonies.

These days, carnations are very popular both for ornamental uses in the garden, and in wedding decorations for their beauty, which they provide in droves, and it also helps that these flowers are very cheap to grow and buy.

They have remained popular with florists for hundreds of years, ensuring that the dianthus genus is full to the brim with new cultivars, and over a hundred different varieties are award winners.

Carnations Growing Requirements

Depending on the species and cultivar you go for, dianthus plants are hardy in USDA zones 5 through to 9, some flowering in spring, while others bloom in summer, and even into fall if the weather allows.

They’ll grow in partial shade, but most types prefer full sunlight, preferably at the front of a border where they can get plenty of it.

They require good-quality soil with plenty of drainage, ideally with a pH between 6.0 and 7.5.

These plants will happily live in containers if you give them the right conditions, but they are equally happy in the ground, attracting plenty of beneficial insects into your garden.

Dianthus plants only require an average amount of watering, and it helps that they need very little maintenance, which also contributes to their popularity. 

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