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What is the legend of the red carnation?

What is the legend of the red carnation?

The legend of the red carnation has its roots in Greek mythology and symbolism. Red carnations have long been associated with love, admiration and sacrifice. This vibrant bloom continues to carry deep meaning for many cultures today. Discover the origins and evolution of the red carnation legend below.

History and Meaning of the Red Carnation

The red carnation is rich in history and symbolism. This bright red flower has become an iconic symbol representing deep love and affection. But where did this tradition begin?

The legend of the red carnation originated in ancient Greece. The myth involves the god Apollo becoming enamored with a nymph named Coronis. The feeling was mutual, and the pair fell deeply in love. However, Coronis soon became distracted by a mortal and was unfaithful to Apollo.

When Apollo discovered Coronis’ betrayal, he was heartbroken. In an act of anguish and revenge, he sent his sister Artemis to kill Coronis with her arrows. As Coronis lay dying, Apollo felt remorse for what he had done. According to legend, her spilled blood fell to the earth, and red carnations sprang up from the ground where it landed.

Red carnations became a symbol of Apollo and Coronis’ deep but ultimately doomed love. The bright crimson color represented the blood and passion they shared.

Over time, the meaning of the red carnation expanded beyond this Greek tale. The red carnation became an iconic symbol of deep romance and devotion. Its rich color was seen as representing strong romantic feelings or sacrifice in the name of love.

This tradition continued into the Victorian era. Floriography, also known as the “language of flowers,” was very popular in Victorian England and Europe. Red carnations were used to express love, pride, and admiration. Suitors would often send bouquets containing red carnations as a message of their passionate feelings.

Cultural Meanings Around the World

Beyond Europe, red carnations hold special meaning in many cultures globally. Here are some of the associations and traditions surrounding red carnations:

Country Meaning
Portugal In 1974, red carnations became a symbol of the Carnation Revolution, which restored democracy to Portugal after decades of authoritarian rule.
Spain Red carnations are the national flower of Spain and appear in many cultural celebrations.
Central America Red carnations are associated with Mother’s Day celebrations and often gifted to mothers.
Korea Parents of students graduating from high school traditionally wear red carnations at graduation ceremonies.
Poland On Poland’s National Remembrance Day, red carnations are laid at monuments to fallen soldiers.

As you can see, red carnations hold symbolic meaning across many cultures, often representing devotion, sacrifice, celebration, and remembrance. The vibrant bloom’s rich history extends far beyond its origins in Greek myth.

Use in Modern Times

Today, red carnations remain a beloved flower representing love and affection. Red carnations are popularly gifted on Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, and other occasions where expressing romantic feelings is appropriate. Their bright petals and long-lasting nature make them a top pick.

Red carnations also appear frequently at weddings. Brides often carry bouquets combining red and white carnations, representing pure love. Carnations are an affordable flower, so they are a budget-friendly option for wedding floral arrangements. Centerpieces featuring red carnations can create a classic, romantic aesthetic.

While red carnations denote romance, they have expanded meaning as well. Red carnations are commonly gifted to mothers on Mother’s Day in many countries. This symbolizes a mother’s eternal love and sacrifice for her children.

Friends may exchange red carnations as a symbol of their deep platonic love and appreciation for one another. Red carnations are also used in remembrance, laid on graves or memorials to honor the passing of loved ones.

Growing Red Carnations

For gardeners, red carnations are a beautiful addition to the landscape. Here are some tips for successfully growing these blooms:

– Select a spot with at least 6 hours of full sunlight per day. Carnations thrive in sunlight.

– Plant in well-draining soil of average fertility. Avoid soggy soil.

– Space plants 8-10 inches apart. Carnations have bushy foliage.

– Water regularly to keep soil moderately moist. Allow soil to dry between waterings.

– Apply a balanced fertilizer monthly during the growing season.

– Remove spent blooms to encourage continuous flowering. Deadhead plants regularly.

– In cold climates, protect plants by covering with mulch in winter. Carnations are perennial down to zone 3.

With proper care, red carnations will provide stunning color in the garden year after year. The beauty and symbolism of red carnations lives on through continued cultivation.


Red carnations have a storied history spanning centuries and cultures. From Greek myth to Victorian floriography to modern romance, this vibrant bloom has long represented love, devotion, and sacrifice. The red carnation’s rich symbolism and beauty ensure it remains a cherished flower for generations to come. Whether planting in the garden or giving to a loved one, red carnations convey deep meaning and passion.