The Difference Between Carnations & Violets


Carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus), African violets (Saintpaulia ionantha) and violets (Viola spp.) share very few common features or characteristics. Their differences are profound, including how they're commonly used and cared for. All three of these flowers are common in nurseries and flower shops alike, albeit sometimes in different varieties than the type you're seeking.


  • The big-flowered carnations that adorn vases and corsages grow 18 to 24 inches tall in the garden, pot or greenhouse. Other species of Dianthus, which grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 11, depending on species, can grow from just a few inches tall to over a foot tall. Garden violets (Viola odorata), which grows in USDA zones 5 through 8, grow between 6 and 12 inches tall with an equal spread. African violets (Saintpaulia spp.), on the other hand, grow anywhere from less than 6 inches in diameter to over 16 inches.


  • The primary use of flower-shop carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus) is cutting. These long-stemmed beauties with flowers reaching a couple inches in diameter make ideal plants for vases and bouquets. Other carnation varieties may have many smaller flowers and make ideal bedding plants. Garden violets are well suited to flower beds; their sweet fragrance adds to their charm. African violets are commonly found in greenhouses and flower shops, where they're sold as indoor houseplants.

Care and Culture

  • Growing long-stemmed carnations like those found in flower shops requires a bit more work than the shorter Dianthus varieties. You'll need to stake these plants while also paying close attention to de-heading and bud-pinching. Most carnation varieties prefer a full-sun location with well-drained soil, but will tolerate an area that gets at least five hours of sunlight. According to, the soil should also be slightly alkaline for best results. Garden violets prefer full sun to partial shade and also need well-drained soil. These violets are hardy and spread via rhizomes. African violets, as houseplants, require a narrow range of light to produce the best blooms. Windows facing north or east typically give the best light; too much sun from a south- or west-facing window can damage the plant. Too much or too little water is also detrimental to these finicky houseplants.


  • The carnation has a rich, sometimes-debated history. Ancient Greeks used these double-bloomed flowers in ceremonial crowns, while today they are worn on several occasions, including holidays. The carnation is the birth-month flower for the month of January and is often considered the traditional flower of one-year marriage anniversaries. According to "Florigraphy (the Meaning of Flowers)," published by University of Illinois Extension, the carnation represents pride and beauty. Violets, on the other hand, represent both faithfulness and affection, and are commonly given to a sweetheart. The American Violet Society suggests that they once may have represented the truth of love and were sometimes used to symbolize fasting or mourning.

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