As the painting at right by French artist Pierre-Joseph Redouté reveals, the answer is my birth flower, the carnation.The Carnation Revolution in Portugal in 1974 was a coup that changed the Portuguese regime from an authoritarian dictatorship to a democracy. The revolution was noteworthy in that the revolutionaries did not use violence to achieve their goals. Holding red carnations, the civilian population of Lisbon marched in protest toward a company of regime solders and convinced the soldiers not to resist. Miraculously, the soldiers swapped their bullets for the flowers. In the aftermath, a new constitution was drafted, censorship was outlawed, free speech was allowed once more, political prisoners were released, and the Portuguese territories in Africa were declared independent. Not a bad day's work for a flower!

Carnations are native to the Mediterranean region and have been in extensive cultivation for over 2,000 years. After all those years, one wild carnation variety is still with us today. It's known in horticulture as Dianthus caryophyllus and to the gardener as the "clove pink," due to its pink color and strong scent reminiscent of cloves. Carnations are easy to grow, preferring full sun, a somewhat sandy soil, and no wet feet.

Photo of the author from his book on
the carnation (see title page below)

Helping to bring down repressive regimes is not the only political association that carnations enjoy. In 1866, a doctor in Alliance, Ohio, named Levi L. Lamborn, bought some potted red carnation plants for his home greenhouse. At that time carnations were relatively rare, sought-after plants in the United States. In addition to growing carnations, Dr. Lamborn had a keen interest in politics. In 1876 he ran against William McKinley for the congressional seat in his district.

Despite their political rivalry, the two men were longtime personal friends. On a visit to Dr. Lamborn's home one day, Mr. McKinley had admired the beautiful red carnations in the former's greenhouse. From that day on, Dr.

Title page from Dr. Lamborn's pioneering
book on carnations, fourth edition, 1901

Lamborn presented his friend with a carnation for his lapel before each of their political debates. History tells us that Mr. McKinley won the election and went on to become Governor of Ohio and later on President of the United States. He continued to wear a red carnation in his lapel in all of his subsequent political campaigns and associated the flower with his success. Three years after President McKinley's assassination in 1901 and 20 years after Dr. Lamborn had suggested that the flower become the floral emblem of the state, the Ohio General Assembly made the scarlet carnation the official state flower. Every year on President McKinley's birthday, January 29th, a bouquet of red carnations appears in the hands of his lifelike statue at the Capitol building in Columbus.

Illustration from Dr. Lamborn's book
of a carnation bearing his name

The Ohio tribute to the carnation doesn't end there. In 1959, the General Assembly named Dr. Lamborn's hometown of Alliance the "Carnation City". The next year and every year since, Alliance has held a Carnation Festival during the month of August. This year the festival, from August 6-16, commemorates the 50th year of its designation as Carnation City and as the birthplace of Ohio's scarlet carnation.

As a food, carnation flowers are used to flavor vinegars, syrups, jellies, and honey. To avoid pesticide exposure, care should be taken to use only organically grown carnations from one's
own garden or from an organic market in the preparation of these foods. Here is an interesting recipe called "Carnation Pickle," from a book, "The Garden of Pleasant Flowers, published by John Parkinson in 1629:

6 cups carnation flowers
Brown sugar
A few cloves
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
2 cups wine vinegar
2 bay leaves
1 stick cinnamon

Strip the petals from the rest of the flower and remove the bitter white portion at the base of the petals with a sharp knife. Lay a thin layer of petals in a wide-mouthed jar and sprinkle with brown sugar. Add another layer and sprinkle with more brown sugar and a few cloves and the coriander seeds. Add more layers and more sugar. Warm the vinegar with the bay leaves and cinnamon for 10 minutes. Pour the hot vinegar over the carnation petals. Seal and let stand for 2 weeks before eating. A peeled, sliced cucumber, or pickling onions, or green peppers, and even sweet corn cut off the cob, can be added to the recipe, alternating layers with the carnation petals. Serve with cheese.

Bon appetit!

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Caryophyllates
Family: Caryophyllaceae
Genus: Dianthus
Species: Caryophyllus


Carnation Links
Click on name of link. To see full-size photos of carnations, click on the carnation bullet.

Image DG Plant Files

Image Recent carnation cultivars

Image Photo of florist carnations

Image Articles by other DG writers:
Carnations ~ Much More than a Boutonnière
Dyeing Carnations: A Fun Project With Kids

Image Leaf through Dr. Lamborn's book online

Image Founding of American Carnation Society (A Google search produced no evidence of such a society existing today.)

Image Carnation 'American Flag'
from Dr. Lamborn's book


The famous red carnation

More Recipes and Dianthus Information

Commercially Popular Members of Dianthus spp.
(Click on botanical name for photo)

Botanical name

Common name


D. alpinus

Alpine pink

Austrian Alps

D. arenarius

Sand pink

Northern and eastern mountains of Europe

D. armeria

Deptford pink


D. arvernensis

Finnish pink

Auvergne mountains of France

D. barbatus

Sweet William

Grown in Britain as early as 1573

D. carthusianorum

Cluster-head pink


D. caryophyllus



D. chinensis

Indian pink or Rainbow Pink

Hills of eastern Asia

D. deltoides

Maiden Pink

Europe and Asia and was reported in
Britain in 1581

D. erinaceus


Dwarf, alpine form, mountains of the Middle East

D. fragrans

Fragrant pink


D. freynii

Dianthus Caryophyllus

Native of Hungary and Bosnia

D. gratianopolitanus

Southwestern France, introduced to Britain in 1792

D. haematocalyx


D. knappii


D. microlepis

Mountains of Bulgaria

D. myrtinervius

Albanian pink

Alpine meadows of Macedonia

D. pavonius


Swiss and Italian Alps

D. nitidus


Mountains of Macedonia

D. plumarius

Feathered pink

Southern Russia

D. repens


Eastern European grasslands

D. seguieri


Temperate regions of the eastern Mediterranean

D. squarrosus

Russian dianthus

Southern Russia

D. superbus

Superb pink

Central Europe

D. sylvestris

Woodland pink

Alpine plant of southern Europe

From "The Biology and Ecology of Dianthus caryophyllus L. (Carnation), Department of Health and Aging, Office of the Gene Technology Regulator, Canberra, Australia

Carnation Honey

1 cup fresh or dried petals
1 lb. honey

Add chopped or crushed flowers to honey. Loosely cover jar and place in a pan half full of gently boiling water. Remove from heat, and let sit in the hot water for 10 minutes. Remove jar from water and let cool to room temperature. Allow jar of honey with flowers to sit for 1 week. Flowers can then be strained out if desired.

Will last indefinitely in a cool dark place.

Uses: Tea, salad dressings, on croissants, scones, muffins and bread.

Carnation Jelly

2 1/2 cups apple juice OR white wine
1 cup fresh carnation petals
4 cups sugar
1/4 lemon juice
1 - 2 drops food coloring (optional)
3 ounces of liquid pectin
Fresh flower petals (optional)

Bring juice or wine to a boil and pour over petals. Cover and steep until liquid has cooled, then strain out flowers leaving only liquid. Combine 2 cups of this flower infusion with sugar, lemon juice and food coloring. Bring to a boil over high heat and as soon as the sugar has dissolved, stir in the pectin. Return to a rolling boil, stirring, and boiling for exactly 1 minute. Remove the jelly from the heat and skim off any foam. Let jelly cool slightly and add more flower petals (if desired), then pour into sterilized jars. If petals do not stay suspended, stir jelly as it cools until petals stay in place. Process in hot water bath or seal with paraffin.

Yield: 4 - 5 half pints

Fun Fact

The fairest flowers o' the season are the carnations.--William Shakespeare, "A Winter's Tale," 1601

Before this date, carnations in England had many common names. Among them were "Carnardine," "Coronation," and "Clove Gillyflower."

Image Credits

Thanks to Wikipedia for the Redouté image, the 'Woodland Pink' photo, and the red carnation image.

The black and white images are courtesy of Internet Archive.

Images for the Dianthus bullets are from DG photos as follows:

Dianthus 'Rosie Cheeks' courtesy of ampy
Dianthus 'Cinnamon Red Hots' courtesy of PotEmUp
Dianthus 'Raspberry Parfait' courtesy of TuttiFrutti
Dianthus 'Olympic' courtesy of kniphofia
Dianthus 'CFPC Jade' courtesy of PotEmUp
Dianthus 'Spangled Star' courtesy of PurplePansies

© Larry Rettig 2009

Dianthus 'Goblin' Photo by Todd Boland, DG author

Dianthus 'Velvet 'n Lace' Photo by DG member Joy

Questions? Comments? Please scroll down to the form below. I enjoy hearing from my readers!

(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on April 8, 2009. Your comments are welcome but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)