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cut flower of the month
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Dianthus caryophyllus
(dy-AN-thus care-ee-oh-FILL-us )
Carnation, Standard carnation
Dianthus caryophyllus nana
(dy-AN-thus care-ee-oh-FILL-us NAY-na)
Spray carnation, Miniature carnation, Chinese miniature carnation
Dianthus barbatus
(dy-AN-thus bar-BAY-tus )
Sweet William
Dianthus hybrid

Standard carnations have round ruffly or fringed-petaled blossoms that grow up to 3 inches in diameter. These large, single blooms are created by “disbudding” (removing the side buds so that all the energy of a plant goes to a single bloom at the top of the stem).
Spray carnation blossoms are usually around 1 inch in diameter, with several blooms occurring on branched stems. Many varieties of both standard and spray carnations exhibit a clovelike fragrance.
Chinese miniature carnation blooms also are around 1 inch in diameter, but there is only one bloom (and perhaps an attached bud or two) per stem.
Sweet William flower heads, usually 1.5 to 3 inches in diameter, are flat-topped clusters of small bicolored fringed-petaled blossoms that often have a contrasting “eye” (center). Most sweet William cultivars have little or no scent.
Gipsy/gypsy Dianthuses have micro blooms on branched stems. The blooms resemble individual sweet William florets but are not clustered.
All Dianthus stems are generally straight and stiffly firm, with bulbous nodes, or joints, at which the leaves grow.

Carnations and spray carnations are available in virtually every hue except true blue. There are both solid and bicolor cultivars; bicolors may have contrasting colored flecks, stripes, petal edging, or petal fades or frosts.
Sweet Williams and gipsy generally have bicolor blossoms in lavender, purple, pink, red, burgundy, salmon and white. A new novelty hybrid, ‘Green Trick’, has masses of fuzzy green “petals” causing the bloom to look like a ball of moss.
Dianthus leaves and stems range from gray-green to blue-green.

Carnations and spray carnations typically last six to 14 days—sometimes longer—at the consumer level while sweet Williams and gipsy provide three to 10 days of enjoyment. Vase life varies by species and cultivar and is affected by stage of maturity at the time of harvest (see “Purchasing Advice,”) and care received after harvest.

All Dianthus species are available year-round from both domestic and foreign growers; however, around 90 percent of the carnations sold in the U.S. today are produced in Colombia.

vase-life extenders
Unpack Dianthuses immediately upon arrival at your facility, and check flower quality. Remove all stem bindings as well as any leaves that would be under water in storage containers. If flowers cannot be attended to immediately, place shipping boxes into a floral refrigerator.


Next, recut stems, on an angle, with a clean, sharp blade, removing at least 1 inch of stem. Immediately after cutting, dip or place the stem ends into a hydration solution (to help the flowers take up water more quickly; Dianthuses are easily water stressed), then place them into sterilized storage containers partially filled with a properly proportioned flower-food solution or holding solution (low-nutrient flower-food solution).

Immediately after processing, place Dianthuses into a floral cooler at 33 F to 35 F, with a humidity level of 85 percent to 95 percent, for at least two hours before arranging or selling them. Except for design time, keep these flowers refrigerated until they’re sold or delivered. Research shows that a one-day interruption of continuous cold from farm to florist can result in a three-day loss in vase life at the consumer level.


The amount of damage to Dianthuses caused by ethylene gas varies somewhat among cultivars and species; however, in general, Dianthuses are extremely sensitive to ethylene, which accelerates petal wilting (referred to as “sleepiness”) and petal browning and prevents buds from opening.
While bud-stage flowers are less sensitive to ethylene than mature flowers, it’s important that all Dianthuses be treated with an ethylene inhibitor at the grower level or during shipping. In addition, keep them away from sources of ethylene in your facility, especially fresh fruit and other produce.
Spray carnations do not always respond well to antiethylene agents because buds and blooms of varying maturities do not accept the treatment equally.




fun facts

Many varieties of carnations have a natural clove fragrance, and in the 1700s and 1800s, carnation petals were used to add clove flavoring to foods and wines. Carnations also are an important foundation for the perfume industry in France, where, for years, huge fields of carnations have been grown for use as a basic essence in quality perfumes.
(See more “Fun Facts” in “Blooming Plant of the Month.”)

toxicity alert
Inform customers that ingestion of Dianthus blooms or leaves can cause minor stomach irritation, especially in pets, and that frequent handling can cause contact dermatitis in some people.

purchasing advice
• Look for standard and spray carnations in tight bud form (although one open bloom per stem on spray carnations is acceptable). Carnations in bud form are desirable because they ship better, are less sensitive to ethylene and will last longer, and they almost always open into high-quality flowers.
• Buy sweet Williams when 10 percent to 30 percent of the blossoms on each flower head are open.
• Check bunches for broken stems, which can occur at the nodes (some varieties’ stems are more brittle than others), as well as split calyxes.
• Carnations are generally available in various “grades” (e.g., select, fancy, standard, short), which are determined by stem length, strength and straightness; bloom size; and freedom from defects or damage.



To view 44 additional dianthus varieties, please download the pdf.

(printable PDF)
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Some information provided by:
Botanica, by R.J. Turner Jr. and Ernie Wasson
Chain of Life Network® ,
Cut Flowers of the World
by Johannes Maree and Ben-Erik Van Wyk
Hortus Third
by Liberty Hyde Bailey and Ethel Zoe Bailey
SAF Flower & Plant Care
by Terrill A. Nell, Ph.D., and Michael S. Reid, Ph.D.