Caryophyllaceae dianthus, also known as a carnation, has flowers 2 to 3 inches in diameter and a rich fragrance. The narrow green leaves average 5 inches in length. Carnations grow in a wide variety of colours including red, yellow, and purple. When a desired colour isn't available, florists dye the petals of a white carnation using food colouring in water with freshly cut stems. That's how we get green carnations.
Carnations originated in Eurasia.
Flower symbolism, including that for carnations, varies from culture to culture and often depends on the flower's colour. Because of the association with the Mother Mary, for example, white carnations represent purity. Red carnations express affection, while pink symbolises friendship and thankfulness. In the 20th century, Carnations also became associated with Mother's Day, being the preferred flower for gifting that day. It was also during the 19th and 20th centuries that green carnations began making a splash on various social scenes for symbolic value, namely indicating sexual preference or as a way of encouraging good fortune (green being a lucky colour).
Carnations in History
The ancient Egyptians were probably the first people to dye flowers like carnations; however, there was no significance attributed to it other than personal preference. Greeks considered carnations as sacred to Zeus. The flowers appeared regularly in this region for ceremonial purposes. The name carnation also has Greek origins, meaning "divine flower." Christian folklore tells us that carnations first blossomed from Mary's tears as she wept for Jesus. At this juncture in history these flowers grew mainly in various shades of pink. Come the Middle Ages, white carnations became part of weddings as a token of fidelity.
Mentions of green carnations, specifically as having symbolic value, didn't happen until the florist industry took root in modern society.
Victorian Language of Flowers
Carnations appear in the Victorian Language of Flowers. While green carnations were not directly mentioned, all carnation flowers symbolised fascination, particularly from a woman. Solid coloured carnations of any hue represented a positive answer to a question, or simply "yes." Striped carnations of any colour meant a regretful "no."
Noel Coward wrote a musical called Bitter Sweet in 1929 where green carnations appear in lyrics as a way of distinguishing homosexual men. Interestingly enough, Oscar Wilde, who was openly gay, often wore a green carnation.
Robert S. Hichens wrote a novel called The Green Carnation in 1894 in which Oscar Wilde was characterised as Mr. Amarinth. This was during the time when carnations appeared in lapels among Wilde's group of friends. When asked about this, Mr. Wilde said that they wore the flowers to generate conversation. However, Mr. Hichens' book also uses the green carnation to represent a person, like Oscar Wilde, who was wholly unafraid of life.
St. Patrick's Day
During the 20th century, dying white carnations green as a way of "wearing the green" became popular. In this form the flower represents luck; however, it's not customary to do this in Ireland. This is an American tradition that started around 1900 with advertising in journals like the Weekly Florists Review that offered green carnation dye for 60p a quart.