This section is from the book "Handbook Of Hardy Trees, Shrubs, And Herbaceous Plants", by W. Botting Hemsley. Also available from Amazon: Handbook of hardy trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants.
The presence of two or more bracts at the base of a tubular calyx and peltate seeds with a straight embryo are the principal distinctive characters. The numerous species are dispersed across Europe, North Africa, and Central Asia, from the borders of the Atlantic to the eastern extremity of China and Japan, and one species is found in North-west America. The species are particularly numerous in the Mediterranean region, and about four extend to Britain. The name is derived from the two Greek words dios and avOos literally Jupiter's flower. We must limit ourselves to a review of those species more directly interesting from a horticultural point of view.
1. D. Caryophyllus. - The parent of all the beautiful florist's varieties known under the names of Carnation, Picotee, Clove, etc. It is a native of the Mediterranean region, but it has become naturalized in many localities farther north. According to some authors, the Carnation was cultivated in very ancient times by the Mussulmans of Africa, who used it to perfume their liqueurs, and was brought from Tunis during the latter half of the thirteenth century, upon the termination of the disastrous expedition undertaken by St. Louis against that town. But there is nothing to prove that it is any more indigenous in Barbary than it is on the northern shores of the Mediterranean. Moreover, the history of this plant is neither more nor less obscure than that of many other cultivated plants of early introduction. Under cultivation the normally single flower has become semi-double or double in all degrees, and, in place of the uniform lilac purple of the wild state, it has assumed all hues, from pure white to dark purple and almost black, and even some which seem quite foreign to it, as yellow and certain slate-coloured tints, in which some profess to distinguish shades of blue. These colours are varied and intermixed in a thousand ways upon a ground of the dominating tint, giving rise to striped, flaked, spotted, bordered, bi- or tri-coloured double or full flowers, with petals fringed or entire, realising almost every imaginable combination of form and colour.
Every country of Europe, but principally Holland, Belgium, Germany, France, and England, has participated in the cultivation of the Carnation, and each of these countries has produced a series of varieties, more or less distinct, which they have attempted to classify systematically; but these classifications, made without any common understanding, and resting almost all of them upon the whims of some amateurs, have augmented rather than diminished the confusion. We think we cannot do better than give an outline of those classifications which have received the greatest number of adherents in this branch of floriculture. According to the English classification, all the varieties of the Carnation are brought under three categories, viz.: Bizarres, Flakes and Picotees. The Bizarres are distinguished by their white ground, rayed or striped from the centre to the circumference, with bands of two or three clearly defined different colours or different tints of the same colour. The Flakes have also a white ground, but they are only striped or streaked with one colour. And Picotees, instead of having the petals longitudinally striped, have them bordered the latter part of Winter and early Spring. The Neapolitan, Giant, and King are varieties of this species. This is indige-nous in the South-east of England.
V. palmata, V. pedata, and V. pinnata are all handsome blue or, in some varieties, white-flowered species, having the leaves divided into narrow segments in the manner suggested by the several names. The first two are North American, and the other South European.