Ornamental pinks include the spicily fragrant flowers of the large genus Dianthus, an Old World group including the carnation ( D. caryophyllus ), sweet William ( D. barbatus ), Deptford pink ( D. armeria ), and most other flowers called dianthus or pink (some of the latter belong to other genera of the family). In over 2,000 years of cultivation (the name Dianthus was mentioned by Theophrastus c.300 B.C.) the carnation has given rise to about 2,000 varieties, all derived from the single-flowered, flesh-colored clove pink, known in Elizabethan times as gillyflower. Formerly added to wine and beer as a flavoring, it is now used in perfumery. The sweet William bears its blossoms in dense clusters; wild sweet William, an American wildflower, is an unrelated species of the phlox family. The most popular ornamental pinks—the maiden pink ( D. deltoides ) and especially varieties of the garden, or grass, pink ( D. plumarius )—have escaped from cultivation and now grow wild in the United States. This is true also of other ornamentals, e.g., the ragged robin, or cuckoo flower ( Lychnis flos-cuculi ), the bouncing Bet ( Saponaria officinalis ), and the baby's breath ( Gypsophila paniculata ). The ragged robin was once known as crowflower; it was probably the crowflower used by Ophelia in her garland (Shakespeare's Hamlet ). The bouncing Bet, cultivated in colonial America, is the best-known American soap plant; it is also called soapwort, as are other species of the genus. The baby's breath is an unusual member of the family in being a bushy plant; it is much used as a bouquet filler.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.