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Sweet William Flower Meaning

Sweet William Flower Meaning

Sweet William flowers produce elegant, flat-head flowers with five petals with ruffled edges. These dianthus plants symbolize masculinity, gallantry, passion, admiration, gratitude, and love in the red, pink, white, and patterns. Learn everything you could want to know about the Sweet William carnation below.

About the Sweet William Flower

Sweet William flowers belong to the Dianthus genus (translates to divine flower) of the family Caryophyllaceae, which comes from the Greek Karya phyllon – meaning walnut leaf. They have been popular in Britain gardens since the 16th century. 

The common name comes from the Duke of Cumberland William Augustus, who led his British soldiers in the Battle of Culloden in 1746.

Other Common Names

Sweet William is the common name for this plant. But it’s often also called by its scientific name, Dianthus Barbatus. Other words include Sweet William Pink, carnations, fleur de Jupiter, Zeus’s flower, Bearded Pink, and China Carnation. In Scottish lore, the plant is sour Billy or stinking Willie. 

Characteristics of the Sweet William

Sweet William flowers are among the oldest cultivated plants, chosen for their heady fragrance as much as their unique flowers. These plants are biennials, meaning they live for two years. 

The seeds germinate during the first year, and the plants produce greenery. The second-year is when the flowers bloom and create seeds. Sweet Williams grows to heights of one to two feet. 

Sweet Williams erupts with clusters of up to 30 flowers between spring and late summer, each with five ruffled petals. These flowers come in white, purple, pink, red, and variations of two-tone prints that produce a sweet, clove scent that attracts butterflies, bees, and birds. 

History and Origin of the Sweet William

 The Sweet William plant originated in some parts of Asia and southern Europe. Greeks and Romans portrayed Sweet Williams in many may friezes adorn important buildings. 

The flower was also made into garlands for special occasions. Dianthus combines the Greek words Dios (gods) and Anthos (flower), meaning flower of the gods.

There are a few different myths regarding the flower’s origins. One legend says that the flower came from the period of William the Conqueror, covering the Normandy hills where he found victory. 

Another story says that Sweet Williams is a symbolic tribute to William Shakespeare, who described the flowers for personal adornment or checking gardens.

A third myth revolves around the Battle of Culloden, where the King’s inhumane treatment of his enemies led to the flowers becoming known as the stinking Billy. 

Sweet Williams were planted at Hampton Court, the castle of King Henry VIII. This simple act led to sweet williams appearing in most English gardens in the last few hundred years.

Growing and Caring for Sweet William Flower 

Sweet Williams is simple to grow, with low maintenance needs. It does best in full sun, with well-draining soil and cooler temperatures. 

Starting your plants from seeds is easy, as they don’t require planting. Just push them down into the dirt after sprinkling them out. Once they develop a few leaves, your plants will need 8’ to 12’ of space. 

After your flowers wither, deadhead the bulbs to encourage repeat blooming. If you notice yellow leaves, it is typically a sign of overwatering, which can cause root rot. 

You’ll also need a spot that allows free air movement at the stems. Fertilizing is helpful every six to eight weeks to grow healthy and robust. 

Once your Sweet William dianthus plants die, plant red clover seeds covered with mulch. The clover will bloom right before your Williams flowers and add nitrogen to the soil while preventing weed growth. 

Types of Sweet William 

There are several different varieties of William flowers in different Sweet Williams floral shapes, sizes, and colors.

Pinocchio Sweet William

Pinocchio Sweet William is a smaller, double-petal Sweet Williams flowers variant. This strain has William meaning of 

Wee Willie Sweet William

The Dianthus wee willie – Wee Willie Sweet William flower – is the smallest version, only 5” in height. 

Giant Imperial Sweet William

The Giant Imperial Sweet William Dianthus tree is among the tallest species of the Sweet Williams plant. This Diantha flower is available in many different colors.

Heart Attack Sweet William

The Heart Attack Sweet William plant gets its name from the dramatic, bold color of the dainty Sweet Williams flowers, in a rich, blackish-red. 

Sooty Sweet William

Sooty Sweet William plants produce Sweet William leaves and stems in a red that transforms to mahogany by early summer. The Prince William flower is chocolate and dark maroon.

Uses of Sweet William

While the main use for any flower is for decor, William flowers also have three other benefits. 


Because Sweet William is safe for consumption, it’s a common ingredient for cooking due to its mild flavor. In addition, the Royal William rose flowers can go for flavoring in salads – vegetables and fruits – cakes, cold drinks, sorbets, teas, and desserts.


When made into a Sweet Williams essential oil, it’s used for making perfumes. But it also has multiple therapeutic benefits, like a muscle relaxant, anti-inflammatory, and hair loss prevention. In addition, dried flower heads go in cosmetic applications and potpourri.


In Chinese cultures, Sweet William Dianthuses are crucial herbs used medicinally to treat problems with the urinary tract. 

Western cultures use the whole plant as herbal medicine, a bitter tonic that can stimulate the urinary and digestive systems. However, the flower is also classified as properties of diuretic, antibacterial, anthelmintic, hemostatic, and antiphlogistic.

Sweet William Flower Meaning and Symbolism

Sweet Williams has multiple symbolisms, largely associated with the flower of the gods. In Victorian times, the flower language Sweet William flower meaning is gallantry.

Other Sweet William flower meanings include passion, admiration, gratitude, and love. During the wedding of Prince William and Catherine of Middleton, sweet william flowers were part of the bridal bouquet as a tribute to the groom. 

According to Greek mythology, red Sweet William flowers symbolize innocent blood. So, the legend goes, when the goddess of the hunt – Dianna – punished an innocent shepherd for scaring off her prey by ripping his eyes out and throwing them on the ground, red Sweet Williams flowers emerged from the site.

Masculinity and Courage

Most flowers have associations with femininity and women. However, the Sweet William flower is one of a handful of species, with the flower meaning masculinity. This symbolism could be because of the flower’s associations with courage, bravery, and war.


The Dianthus flower, meaning in Victorian times, is gallantry. It represented heroic bravery, noble-minded behavior, and dashing courage. When a man presents a lady with this flower, he’s sending the unspoken message of “Will you smile?” or “Grant me a smile.”

Perfection and Finesse

Presenting a Sweet William bouquet is an easy way to tell someone that you feel the recipient is as good as it gets or that they are smooth, representing finesse and perfection.

Colors of the Sweet William Flower Meaning

Sweet William flowers come in multiple colors, each with its meaning. However, because William plants fall under the classification of carnations, they can also take on symbolisms of the larger family group.


Red carnations represent admiration and unbounded love for the receiver. The shade of red also affects the meaning. A light shade means admiration, while you’ll use dark red for affection and deep love.


White dianthus flowers send the message, “You’re sweet.” This color is also symbolic of pure love, innocence, luck, talent, and purity. 


Pink William flowers symbolize a mother’s undying love, admiration, and gratitude. 

Interesting Facts About the Sweet William Flower

The first written mention of the Sweet William Flower is in a 1596 garden catalog written by John Gerard, a famed herbalist, and botanist.

Sweet William flowers are also edible, aromatic, and medicinal. They’re also hermaphrodites – containing male and female organs, pollinated by butterflies, moths, and bees.

The Sweet William was the favorite flower of Thomas Jefferson. He cultivated the species in his garden at Monticello in 1807. 

In Japan, the Dianthus is known as Hana-fuki – to blow away. It’s believed that smelling the sweet floral aroma will make your troubles disappear. 

Sweet William FAQ

Want to know more about this sweet flower? Check out these commonly asked questions.

What Does a Sweet William Flower Tattoo Represent?

Choosing a carnation tattoo means you want to show an appreciation and passion for all that life offers. You have an amicable soul that feels deep love and beauty.

Why Is the Flower Called Sweet William?

The exact reason why the flower has the name Sweet William varies, with most historians believing it’s named for Duke of Cumberland William Augustus. 

Is Sweet William Flower Poisonous?

Sweet Williams is edible and a common ingredient in many dishes. However, the leaves are not edible. And no part of the plant is safe for pets, potentially leading to poisoning if consumed.

What Is the Difference Between Sweet William and Dianthus?

Dianthus is the genus name of the species Sweet William. However, Dianthus also contains many other species of carnations. 

Do Sweet Williams Come Back Every Year?

If allowed to seed, Sweet Williams will continue to return every year. It’s necessary to deadhead blooms as they die if you do not want new plants to grow.

Do Butterflies Like Sweet William?

The sweet cinnamon or clove scent of Sweet Williams attracts many pollinators, including butterflies, moths, and bees.

Is Sweet William Flowers Edible?

The flower of the Sweet William plant is safe to eat, having a clove-like, peppery flavor that works superbly in summer salads.

Final Thoughts

If you’re looking for a uniquely beautiful, frilly flat-faced, ruffled flower in bright colors and a sweet, heady aroma, Sweet Williams might be the flower for your garden. With low maintenance needs and many symbols, the dianthus plant can significantly impact your landscaping.