Did You Know the Carnation Is the Official Mother’s Day Flower?

"The carnation does not drop its petals, but hugs them to its heart as it dies, and so, too, mothers hug their children to their hearts, their mother love never dying."

By: THURSD. | 08-05-2024 | 6 min read
Flowers Special Days
Mother's Day carnations in pinkish colors

Flowers are popular Mother's Day gifts, but did you know there is an official Mother's Day flower? It turns out that carnations are historically and traditionally known as the flower for honoring mothers. While you may prefer roses, hydrangeas, or tulips for Mother's Day, carnations have a long history. Learn why carnations are the official flower for mothers, what they represent, and how to care for them.

Flowers as a Symbol of Appreciation and Love for Mother's Day

Mother's Day is a day to recognize and appreciate the most important woman in our lives: our mothers. It is a day to express our gratitude and love for all that they have sacrificed for us. One of the most popular ways to do so is to give them flowers. But why do we buy our mothers flowers on Mother's Day? Let's look into the reasons for this tradition.


Red carnations to celebrate Mothers Day
One of the most popular gifts for Mother's Day is red carnation flowers
Photo: @bloomthis

Flowers are symbols of love and appreciation. They are a lovely and thoughtful way to convey our feelings for someone special. Flowers have long been used as gifts to convey emotions and sentiments. In fact, the tradition of giving flowers on Mother's Day goes back to ancient Greece, where they celebrated a festival in honor of the mother of gods, Rhea. However, it was Anna Jervis who began what is now the celebration of the annual Mother's Day to honor and express love for mothers worldwide. She marked the history of gifting flowers (especially carnations) to her mother and here is where it all begins.


Pastel pink color carnations
The beauty of pastel pink carnations. The perfect option for mom!


The Special History Behind Mother's Day and Carnations

The last two millennia have seen the development of carnations. Greek, Italian, Spanish, and other Mediterranean nations are the native home of the wild carnation. Greek literature was the first to make any reference to carnations 2,000 years ago. Diana, the goddess, developed feelings for a shepherd. Diana was upset since he didn't show her love and affection in return. He was dropped to the ground after she removed his eyes. According to myth, his remains produced carnations.

It developed to be the preferred flower for Greek ceremony crowns and garlands. Another piece of history dates back to Christian tradition when the Virgin Mary sobbed as she saw Jesus carrying the cross. Carnations grew where her tears fell, and for this, pink carnations are now thought to stand for a mother's endless devotion.


Carnations in a box a perfect gift for Mothers Day
Photo: @agapefloral


While mothers have been honored and celebrated since ancient Greek and Roman times, in the United States, Mother's Day only became an official holiday in the early 1900s. The significance of carnations and Mother's Day goes back to Anna Jarvis and the origins of this special day.

Moms and grandmothers alike can thank Philadelphia activist Anna Jarvis for the carnation tradition — and even the holiday itself. On May 10, 1908, Jarvis sent hundreds of white carnations, her late mother’s favorite flower, to her hometown church in West Virginia for a celebration honoring all mothers. That same day, she hosted a similar event in Philadelphia.

Over the next few years, as the number of Mother’s Day celebrations across the county increased, so did the popularity of the white carnation, which came to symbolize a mother’s love. (Thanks to Jarvis’ campaigning, Mother’s Day became a national holiday in 1914 under President Woodrow Wilson.)


White carnations bouquet
Photo: @freshfieldspa


The West Virginia church where that first service was held continued the tradition by passing out carnations annually for mothers. Nearby neighborhoods and churches also began this tradition; thus, carnations became associated with Mother's Day.


White and red carnation arrangement
White, red, and yellow carnation arrangement for Mother's Day
Photo: @nataliekinnear from Unsplash


For special occasions like Mother's Day, white and red carnations are widely gifted around the world because of their significance. True carnations have a characteristic, spicy, vaguely clove-like aroma that many moms adore, as well as a ruffly look that holds its own in floral arrangements.

Modern Meaning and Symbolism of Carnations By Color

There is a whole bouquet of meanings and symbols associated with carnations. Predominantly, carnations are associated with love, fascination, and distinction. They not only represent feelings and emotions but mark special occasions as well such as Mother's Day.


Mothers Day with carnations


White Carnation

The official flower for Mother's Day, according to Anna Jarvis, the holiday's creator, is a white carnation. She chose carnations as the official flower of Mother's Day because of their symbolic meaning. White carnations once stood for unadulterated affection, almost like a mother's love. White carnations also stand for innocence, purity, sincerity, and simplicity. Someone with a tender heart or who seems to have a child at heart (thus why they seem so pure) will love receiving it as a gift. Over time though, they came to symbolize mothers who have passed away. People sometimes leave white carnations at their mother's grave.

Jarvis once said:

"White carnations typify some of the virtues of motherhood…Its whiteness symbolizes the truth, purity, and broad charity of mother love; its fragrance, her memory, and her prayers."


White carnations in a vase


Pink Carnation

The pink carnation is frequently offered as a token of sincere thanks to express 'thank you' and 'I won't forget you'. Carnations in a soft pink color stand for the affection and appreciation of a mother. These beautiful flowers in a delicate pink color represent the mother’s protective, nurturing, and unconditionally lovable nature.


The perfect box for Mothers Day
The perfect box for Mother's Day with pink carnations


Red Carnation

While a pale red carnation denotes appreciation and the phrase 'my heart bleeds for you', a rich red carnation stands for intense love and affection. The bright red petals of the red carnation are said to symbolize a pounding heart that is also overflowing with love.

They are a very popular choice for Mother's Day and are given as a gift to living mothers. Their deep red petals symbolize love and a beating heart, rather than loss. Red carnations also represent passion and uniqueness aside from that.


Red carnations in a bouquet
Photo: @seedtobloomsg


The history, symbolism, and beauty of carnation flowers make them fitting choices to celebrate Mother's Day and honor the incredible superheroes mothers are.

How to Care for Carnation Bouquets

If you decide to gift carnations for Mother's Day, the good thing is they are long-lasting if cared for properly, lasting about two to three weeks. Depending on whether your fresh flowers arrive as a wrapped bouquet or arranged in a vase, here's how to best care for cut carnations.


Two bouquets of pink carnations


The best part is that arrangements made with carnations last for a long time and remain fresh-looking and vibrant with minimal care. Need any more reasons to make carnations your mom's new favorite flower to celebrate her day?



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