Since the day you were born, your mom has loved and supported you — not to mention cooked, cleaned, had a job, and drove you to all those extracurricular activities. Even when you might not have realized it (those teenage years, anyone?), your mom always had your best interest at heart.

That’s why each year we spend one day honoring all that our mothers have done for us. And if part of the celebration includes getting your mom a little something special, it should be a carnation — the official flower of Mother’s Day. The white carnation is said to symbolize motherhood and is used to both honor a mother who has passed away and celebrate a mother who is still living.

Here’s a brief history of how carnations became the symbol of motherhood.

official mothers day flower with a bouquet of flowers and text that says "happy mother's day".

A brief history of Mother’s Day

It’s believed the first celebrations honoring mothers were in ancient times, when Romans held festivals in honor of the mother goddesses Rhea and Cybele. But it wasn’t until Europe in the early 1800s that we saw the first semblance of modern Mother’s Day.

At the time, families in the UK and England celebrated “Mothering Sunday.” A day celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Lent, it encouraged people to travel back to their “mother church” — the first church they ever attended in their hometown — for a special service.

Over the years, Mothering Sunday transitioned into a more secular holiday, known as Mother’s Day, and was celebrated by kids giving their mothers flowers and other small gifts.

Who was Anna Jarvis?

Anna Jarvis is considered the founder of Mother’s Day in America. After her mother passed away, Jarvis vowed to create a day dedicated to honoring mothers both alive and deceased.

Why carnations are the official flower of Mother’s Day

As a young girl living in Philadelphia, Jarvis and her mother cared for a garden full of white carnations — her mother’s favorite flowers. In 1907, Anna delivered 500 white carnations to the church where her mother taught Sunday school. She then requested that each mother in the congregation receive one as they arrived at church that week.

Every year after that, the church upheld the tradition and continued to hand out carnations at their Mother’s Day service. Neighboring communities and churches soon took notice and began incorporating it into their own Mother’s Day services. In the mid-1940s, carnations were dubbed the official Mother’s Day flower. And now it’s even easier to deliver carnations right to Mom’s door!

Anna Jarvis once said that white carnations were the symbol of Mother’s Day because they were thought to “typify some of the virtues of motherhood: Whiteness stands for purity; its lasting qualities, faithfulness; its fragrance, love; its wide field of growth, charity; its form, beauty…”

official mothers day flower with several white carnations lying on a table.

Colorful carnations

Over time, different colored carnations began to take on their own meanings. Because of their history, fragrance, and “heavenly soft” texture, white carnations became popularly thought of as the flowers you left at the gravesite of a mother who had passed away. And even though white carnations originally became popular, red carnations are also considered the official Mother’s Day flower. However, red carnations are believed to be a gift for mothers who are still alive, as it was believed carnations’ deep red petals represented that of a beating heart and love rather than loss.

Care for the official Mother’s Day flower

If you plan on giving or receiving a bouquet of carnations, caring for them properly will ensure that they live a long, beautiful life. Here are some tips for caring for carnations.

  • Make sure they are placed on a windowsill or ledge that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight.
  • Be careful not to overwater them, as this can cause carnations to turn a musty, yellow color.
  • Never leave carnations near a radiator, oven, or another heat source. This will dry them out and cause them to die quickly.

mother's day flowers ad

Tara Carlson graduated from Hofstra University with a degree in Public Relations and loves any and all things creative writing - which is why she is thrilled to be working with Petal Talk. When she's not writing, you can probably find her swimming at the beach, playing soccer, and catching up on the latest movies (she's a big fan of award season)!

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