Plant Common Name
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The genus Dianthus comprises approximately 300 species and more than 27,000 cultivars. Collectively known as “pinks”, these showy flowering plants have been grown for many hundreds of years. Their common name was given for the sharply-toothed petal tips of their flowers, which look like they were cut by pinking shears.
Nearly all Dianthus species hail from Eurasia and northern Africa, while only one originates from North America. Most are herbaceous tender perennials; however a few are annuals, biennials or woody sub-shrubs. Varying in form from grassy and mat-forming to upright and erect, their linear, pointed foliage is typically blue-green to gray-green in color. The leaves are held in opposite pairs, clasping the rounded stems at swollen nodes (joints where the leaves meet the stem). The single, double or semi-double flowers may be solitary, borne in few-flowered clusters or dense heads at the ends of the stems. Appearing in shades of pink, rose, white or pale yellow, they frequently have a sweet, spicy fragrance. Most bloom in spring or early summer, and some may continue over a period of several months. The flowers are followed by cylindrical capsules filled with many small seeds.
Hardiness and culture is species dependent, however, most pinks prefer full sun and neutral to slightly alkaline soil with ample drainage. They are typically intolerant of heat and humidity, and a bit of afternoon shade may be beneficial in areas with very warm summers. All pinks benefit from deadheading (removal of spent flower stems), which prolongs their flowering season. Most are easily started from seed, and perennial types may be propagated by division or cuttings.
Popular Dianthus varieties include old-fashioned sweet william (Dianthus barbatus) a biennial to short-lived perennial native to the mountains of southern Europe and China. China pinks (Dianthus chinensis) offer prolific blooms on compact, bushy plants and are ideal for containers. Perfect for rock gardens, maiden pinks, or Dianthus deltoides, produce low drifts of small, brightly-colored blossoms in late spring to early summer. Florist’s carnations, a staple of the cut flower industry, are lanky perennials bearing large, double flowers on tall stems. Border Carnations are a more garden-worthy form, offering similar flowers on more compact, sturdy plants.