These diminutive Dianthuses are industry staples as well as consumer favorites.
by Steven W. Brown, aifd
1. a small world. These smaller versions of standard carnations (Dianthus), commonly known as spray carnations or miniature carnations, generally have four to six flowers per stem. The florets are usually 1 inch to 2 inches in diameter. Like their larger relatives, some cultivars have a clovelike scent. Most are double forms with many ruffled petals.
2. family affair. Spray carnations belong to the Caryophyllaceae (pink) family and are native to the Mediterranean region. There are some 75 genera and 2,000 species, many members of which are deemed wildflowers or weeds, including sweet William (Dianthus barbatus), baby’s breath (Gypsophila), soapwort (Saponaria), corn cockle (Agrostemma) and chickweed (Stellaria).
3. more than a “pink.” Hundreds of varieties of spray carnations are available in virtually every color in the spectrum—except blue, which is the holy grail of some breeders—as well as bicolors and fleck cultivars. These flowers can be dyed or tinted to increase the already abundant color choices.
4. flower for all seasons. Spray carnations are available year-round from both domestic and international growers. The majority of the U.S. supply comes from growers in Colombia. In most areas, they are grown as greenhouse crops.
5. making the grade. Spray carnations are graded according to stem length and number of blooms/buds on a stem. Bunches are composed according to bloom count rather than stem count.
6. killer gas. Spray carnations are extremely sensitive to ethylene gas and will display symptoms of accelerated wilting. Keep them away from fruit, vehicle exhaust, cigarette smoke and other sources of ethylene. Check with your suppliers to see if crops have been treated with an ethylene inhibitor at the grower level or during transportation from the farms.
7. snip in the bud. Spray carnations should be purchased when at least one flower per stem is open. Stems in bud form perform best in storage because they are less sensitive to ethylene, and these flowers will open, even from tight buds, into high-quality blossoms.
8. care and care alike. Upon their arrival in your store, unpack spray carnations immediately. Recut the stems, removing at least 1 inch of stem, and dip or place the freshly cut stems into a hydrating solution and then into clean containers with a properly prepared solution of fresh flower food. Next, place the flowers into a floral cooler at 33 F to 35 F and 90 percent to 94 percent humidity, and allow them to hydrate for at least two hours before using in designs or selling.
9. long live the carns. Store spray carnations in a floral cooler at the temperature and humidity level mentioned above for the duration of their stay in your shop. Check water level daily, and add room-temperature flower-food solution as needed. Remove any damaged foliage or flowers. Recut stems every two or three days to ensure proper water uptake. With proper care and handling, these flowers can last from six to 14 days, depending on variety.
10. flower of zeus/jove. The botanical name Dianthus comes from the Greek “di,” meaning “of Zeus” or “of Jove,” and “anthos,” meaning “flower.” The common name “carnation” is from the Latin “carnis,” meaning “flesh,” alluding to the pale pink color of the earliest-known flowers.
Steven W. Brown, AIFD, is a professor and department chair of horticulture and floristry at City College of San Francisco with 29 years of consulting and educational experience in the floral industry. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (415) 239-3140.