Facts About White Carnation Flowers

Updated February 21, 2017

The carnation is a perennial plant that comes in many colors. The white carnation evolved during modern times as the color palette of the plant expanded. Today, it carries various meanings and associations.

Carnation History

The carnation, dianthus caryophyllus, is one of the oldest known plants in the world, with its roots in the Mediterranean. It is thought to be the first flower cultivated for its decorative qualities. Both the ancient Greeks and the Romans cultivated the plants for use in flower garlands for d├ęcor and art.

The White Carnation

The first carnations are believed to have been colored pink and peach; the white carnation was cultivated as the palette of colors expanded with the popularity of the plant over the centuries. A single white carnation has five petals, while white border carnations can double in size with some having as many as 40 petals. These petals has a serrated-looking edge. When grown outdoors, a white carnation can grow to a size of between 6.5 and 8 cm wide.

Meanings and Occasions

The family of carnations carry with them different meanings when presented as a gift or used as decoration for a special occasion. The white carnation has for a long time been associated with acts of love; its meaning is often given as true love and good luck. The white carnation is the birth flower of January and the national flower of Spain. White carnations are traditionally worn at England's Oxford University by students sitting a first exam.

Mother's Day

The founder of Mother's Day used carnations at the first Mother's Day celebration both because they were her mother's favorite and to represent the purity of a mother's love. The flower has since become the traditional flower associated with Mother's Day. The white carnation is often worn by children honoring a mother who is absent due to distance or death.


The carnation is often used by college fraternities and sororities as a symbol. The white carnation is used by fraternities Delta Chi, Delta Sigma Phi and Zeta Psi. The sorority Chi Omega also uses the white carnation as its sorority flower.

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About the Author

Paul Cartmell began his career as a writer for documentaries and fictional films in the United Kingdom in the mid-1990s. Working in documentary journalism, Cartmell wrote about a wide variety of subjects including racism in professional sports. Cartmell attended the University of Lincoln and London Metropolitan University, gaining degrees in journalism and film studies.