The Official Mother’s Day Flower Is... a Carnation?

There’s a historical reason behind it.

carnations
Photo by selimaksan/Getty Images

Whether you like carnations or not, some regard the flower as the official flower of Mother’s Day. While you might prefer roses, hydrangeas, or tulips to present to mom, there’s a history behind the connection between carnations and Mother’s Day.

It all has to do with the “founder” of Mother’s Day in the United States, Anna Jarvis. She organized the first official celebration in 1908, and it became a national holiday in 1914. “She distributed 500 carnations at the first official service because they were her mother’s favorite flower,” Rita Dancyger, owner of Joan’s Flower Shop in Chatsworth, California, and floral partner of BloomNation says. “Historically, women wore a white carnation to honor a mother who passed away and a pink carnation to honor a mother still living.”

The carnation generally symbolizes love, with many of its color having different meanings. For instance, red means deep love and admiration; white, purity and good luck; and yellow, friendship.

Even though it has a special meaning, why exactly do carnations get a bad “rap”? “I think carnations have a poor reputation because they are a relatively inexpensive flower and they are often associated being a ‘filler flower,’” Dancyger says. “However, carnations have some qualities that make them a very useful flower: they are long lasting, they don’t cost too much, and they come in a wide variety of colors.” If you want to give carnations another chance, instead of buying a bouquet at your grocery store, head to a local florist for some high-quality blooms.

But, don’t feel too bad for the flower just yet. Dancyger believes that its reputation might be changing, thanks to varieties that come in “antique” hues. “Brides tend to use them more because have a romantic or Victorian look,” she says. “I think it’s up to florists to create beautiful arrangements with the best carnation varieties. Some people don’t even know carnations are being used when top-of-the-line varietals are featured in arrangements.”

If you do decide to give these flowers a try, they are long-lasting if you care for them properly (about two weeks longer!). If they’re pre-arranged in a vase, you won’t have to change the water or cut the stems until two or three days after you receive them. “If you receive a wrapped or hand-tied bouquet, cut the stems at a 45-degree angle before putting them in water,” she says. “This will help the flowers absorb water rather than sitting flat on the bottom of the vase. Re-cut the stems about half an inch or so and change the water every two to three days.”