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June 16, 2023

Let’s Cheer for Carnations

Do you know that florists do not sell carnations because they are not considered to be “premium” flowers? I didn’t know that until I tried to buy carnations from a local florist. He told me, a little imperiously, “No we don’t sell them; they aren’t premium flowers.” Hmmm. All kinds of gaudy and loud “stuff” packed every surface in every corner of said florist’s shop. If I wanted to I could buy figurines, paper products, linens, candles, and artificial flowers of all sizes, shapes, colors, and types but I could not buy a carnation. I am sure the flower arrangements being feverishly created in the back room would not contain carnations either. However, those arrangements in all their “premium” glory could include a shiny bauble, paper napkin, or any other tchotchke as decoration.

I love carnations. They are inexpensive, quietly beautiful, and humble. Carnations grow in a plethora of colors (all with different symbolic meanings) that are appropriate for so many moods, messages, and occasions. The scent of carnations mixes the aromas of clean air, starched linen, and vanilla together in a most pleasant way. With ruffled petals, carnations look like they are ready to dance and yet they are never raucous or ostentatious. Carnations are sturdy, even vigorous, standing tall days after other cut flowers droop and fade in quiet defeat.

Here are some carnation facts I learned from a variety of sources. Carnations are the second most popular flowers ordered online. Only roses are ordered more often than carnations. Carnations, properly called dianthus, are the flower for the month of January. The word dianthus is derived from a combination of Greek words, dios the Greek name for the god Zeus, and anthos the Greek word for flower. Dianthus means divine flower. I ask you, how can a divine flower not be a premium flower when its name promises something lovely and beatific?

Let’s talk a little about Zeus who lent his name to the genus, Dianthus. Zeus was the most powerful god in Greek mythology. He was the king of the gods, ruling all the other gods as well as humans. Zeus governed the sky with thunder, lightning, clouds, rain, and winds. In fact the thunderbolt was Zeus’s weapon of choice which he used to strike down his enemies. This is quite a prodigious lineage for one of my favorite little flowers; and one considered too lowly by my local florist to sell in his shop.

Should I go back and share some of this information with the florist? Do you think he might change his mind about carnations or do you think flower snobbery is an immutable flaw? I think I’ll just be a quiet champion of carnations and enjoy their beauty whenever I can. I’ll let Zeus take care of the florist who perhaps should be extra careful the next time he is out in a booming Southern summer thunderstorm.