1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Carnation

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CARNATION (Dianthus Caryophyllus, natural order Caryophyllaceae), a garden flower, a native of southern Europe, but occasionally found in an apparently wild state in England. It has long been held in high estimation for the beauty and the delightful fragrance of its blossoms. The varieties are numerous, and are ranged under three groups, called bizarres, flakes and picotees. The last, from their distinctness of character, are now generally looked upon as if they were a different plant, whereas they are, in truth, but a seminal development from the carnation itself, their number and variety being entirely owing to the assiduous endeavours of the modern florist to vary and to improve them.

The true carnations, as distinguished from picotees, are those which have the colours arranged in longitudinal stripes or bars of variable width on each petal, the ground colour being white. The bizarres are those in which stripes of two distinct colours occur on the white ground, and it is on the purity of the white ground and the clearness and evenness of the striping that the technical merit of each variety rests. There are scarlet bizarres marked with scarlet and maroon, crimson bizarres marked with crimson and purple, and pink and purple bizarres marked with those two colours. The flakes have stripes of only one colour on the white ground; purple flakes are striped with purple, scarlet flakes with scarlet, and rose flakes with rose colour. The selfs, those showing one colour only, as white, yellow, crimson, purple, &c., are commonly called cloves.

The picotee has the petals laced instead of striped with a distinct colour; the subgroups are red-edged, purple-edged, rose-edged and scarlet-edged, all having white grounds; each group divides into two sections, the heavy-edged and the light-edged. In the heavy-edged the colour appears to be laid on in little touches, passing from the edge inwards, but so closely that they coalesce into one line of colour from 1/12 to 1/16 of an inch broad, and more or less feathered on the inner edge, the less feathered the better; the light-edged display only a fine edge, or “wire” edge, of colour on the white ground. Yellow picotees are a group of great beauty, but deficient in correct marking.

During the decade 1898–1908 a new American race of carnations became very popular with British growers. As the plants flower chiefly during the winter—from October till the end of March—they are known as “winter flowering” or “perpetual”; they are remarkable for the charming delicacy and colouring of the blossoms and for the length of the flower-stalks. This enables them to be used with great effect during the dullest months of the year for all kinds of floral decorations. These varieties are propagated by layers or cuttings or “pipings.”

“Marguerite” carnations are lovely annuals remarkable for their beautifully fringed blossoms. They are easily raised from seeds every year, and should be treated like half-hardy annuals.

What trade growers call “jacks” are seedling carnations with single flowers of no great value or beauty. Thousands of these are raised every year for supplying “grass” (as the foliage is called) to put with choicer varieties. Costermongers take advantage of the ordinary householders’ ignorance of plants by selling “jacks” as choice varieties at a high price.

Carnations are usually propagated by “layering” the non-flowering shoots about the second or third week in July, in the open air; but almost at any period when proper shoots can be obtained under glass. Cuttings or “pipings” are also inserted in rich but very gritty soil in cold frames, or in beds with gentle bottom heat in greenhouses. The rooted layers may be removed and potted or planted out towards the end of September, or early in October, the choice sorts being potted in rather small pots and kept in a cold frame during winter, when damp is dangerous.

New varieties can only be obtained from carefully saved seeds, or when a “sport” is produced—i.e. when a shoot with a flower differing entirely in colour from that of the parent plant appears unexpectedly. “Malmaison” carnations arose in this way, and are largely cultivated in greenhouses.

The soil for carnations and picotees should be a good turfy loam, free from wireworm, and as fibry as it can be obtained; to four parts of this add one part of rotten manure and one of leaf-mould, with sufficient sharp sand to keep it loose. A moderate addition of old lime rubbish will also be an advantage. This should be laid up in a dry place, and frequently turned over so as to be in a free friable condition for use towards the end of February or early in March.

Carnations are subject to several diseases, the worst being the “rust” (Uromyces Caryophilinus), “leaf-spot” and maggot. The first two are checked or prevented by spraying the plants with sulphide of potassium (1 oz. to 10 gallons of water), taking care to avoid the painted woodwork; while the only way to deal with the carnation maggot is to pierce the centre of attacked plants with a needle, and to destroy the eggs whenever they are observed.

Descriptive lists of the best varieties may be had from all the leading nurserymen.