pink, common name for some members of the Caryophyllaceae, a family of small herbs found chiefly in north temperate zones (especially the Mediterranean area) but with several genera indigenous to south temperate zones and high altitudes of tropical mountains. Plants of this family typically have stems that are swollen at the nodes and notched, or “pinked,” petals ranging in color from white to pink, red, and purple. The family includes several ornamentals and many wildflowers and weeds, many of them European species now widely naturalized elsewhere.
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.
Wildflowers of the family that have indigenous American species include the pearlworts (genus Sagina), sandworts (Arenaria), campions and catchflies (species of several genera, especially Lychnis and the widespread Silene), sand spurries (Spergularia), and chickweeds (species of several genera, e.g., Stellaria and Cerastium). Chickweed, relished by birds, is sometimes used for greens and for poultices; catchflies (e.g., Silene virginica of the E United States, also called fire pink) are named for the fringed teeth or claws of their deeply lobed petals. The common chickweed (Stellaria media), the moss campion (Silene acaulis), and the common spurry (Spergula arvensis) are now nearly cosmopolitan weeds, having spread from parts of the Old World. Spurry, cultivated in Europe as a pasture, hay, and cover crop, is sometimes planted to hold sand in place.
Pinks are classified in the division Magnoliophyta
, class Magnoliopsida, order Caryophyllales, family Caryophyllaceae.
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