Ohio State Flower - Scarlet Carnation

Ohio lawmakers chose the scarlet carnation as the state flower in honor of President McKinley.

Ohio lawmakers chose the scarlet carnation as the state flower in honor of President McKinley.

Carnations, the ubiquitous staple of grocery store bouquets and middle school dances, were once much more rare and even revered. President William McKinley of Ohio put them on the map in that state. McKinley's devotion to the flower led the Ohio General Assembly to designate the scarlet carnation as the state's official flower. Every year on January 29, McKinley's birthday, a bouquet of red carnations is placed in the hands of the president's statue in Columbus.


Carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus) are fragrant flowers that come in a wide range of colors including pink, light red, dark red, white, striped, green, purple and yellow. The scarlet variety is the Ohio state flower. Carnations can grow 2 to 3 feet high, but most top out at 12 inches tall. The carnation's blooms are long-lasting, even when they are cut, and retain their fragrance, making them a staple in bouquets.


In 1909, the Ohio General Assembly designated the scarlet carnation the state flower in honor of President William McKinley, who was known for wearing a carnation in his lapel. That tradition started with Dr. Levi L. Lamborn of Alliance, Ohio. In 1866, Lamborn, who was a plant enthusiast, bought six rare carnation plants to grow in his greenhouse. In 1876, Lamborn decided to run against McKinley for a Congressional seat. They were opponents, but they were also friends, and Lamborn always gave McKinley a carnation to wear before their debates. McKinley won the election and went on to become Ohio's governor and then president of the United States. Throughout all of his political campaigns, McKinley wore a carnation in his lapel.


Scarlet carnations prefer sun and cool temperatures. Space them 10 to 12 inches apart, and sow from plants, seedlings or seeds. Varieties can be annual or perennial and bloom in summer and fall. Carnations can grow in shade to full sun in fast-draining soil. They need water once or twice a week during drier periods and fertilizer about once a month.


Carnations were celebrated during the Renaissance, but modern times haven't been as kind to the flower. Once noted by artists such as William Shakespeare and Leonardo da Vinci, the carnation fell from favor, perhaps because they tend to be less expensive than more exotic blooms. "The Wall Street Journal" reports that the carnation's reputation may be turning around. In October 2010, the newspaper said top designers and fashion experts are embracing the flower, showing renewed appreciation for the fragrant, lacy blossoms. As a case in point, Oscar de la Renta included a gown featuring carnations in his Spring 2011 collection.

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