Facts about Sweet William

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Facts about Sweet William

Sweet William Quick Facts
Name: Sweet William
Scientific Name: Dianthus barbatus
Origin Southern Europe from the Pyrenees East to the Carpathians and the Balkans
Shapes Capsule sub oblong to ovoid, 4 valved, 1 cm across
  Dianthus barbatus (Sweet William) is a species of Dianthus native to the mountains of southern Europe from the Pyrenees east to the Carpathians and the Balkans, with a variety disjunctive in northeastern China, Korea, and south easternmost Russia which has become a popular ornamental garden plant. Some of the popular common names of the plant include Sweet-William, Sweetwilliam, Bearded pink, China carnation and sweet William pink. It is an herbaceous biennial or short-lived perennial plant in the pink family (Caryophyllaceae), growing to 13–92 cm tall, with flowers in a dense cluster of up to 30 at the top of the stems. Genus name comes from the Greek words dios meaning divine and anthos meaning flower. The two words put together mean “flowers of God.” Specific epithet means bearded or with long, weak hairs.

Many sources contend that the flower was named for William Augustus, duke of Cumberland, who led British forces against the Jacobites at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. Other sources claim, however, that the name of the flower can be traced to the writings of Thomas Tusser, a 16th-century English poet. In Scotland the flower is known as stinking Willie or sour Billy.

Plant Description

Sweet William is an herbaceous biennial or short-lived perennial plant growing about 30–75 cm tall with flowers in a dense cluster of up to 30 at the top of the stems. The plant is found growing in sunny location and does best in rich, well-drained loamy, mildly alkaline soil but succeeds in most soils including moderately dry soil and partial shade. The plant has erected angular stems and green to glaucous, lanceolate blue green leaves that are 4–10 cm long and 1–2 cm broad, apex acute, base tapering. The plant is usually treated as a garden biennial, seeds are sown the first year producing flowering plants the second year.

Flower & fruit

Each flower is 2–3 cm diameter with five petals displaying serrated edges. Wild plants produce red flowers with a white base, but colors in cultivars range from white, pink, red, and purple to variegated patterns, sometimes with a contrasting eye, and with fringed petals that are bearded on the inside. Flowers may be fragrant, although many of the newer cultivars have no scent. The flowers are edible and may have medicinal properties. Sweet William attracts bees, birds, and butterflies.

The plant is available year round, with each stem producing a ‘spray’ of several flowers- the average being 10-15 blooms per stem. The average stem length is a minimum of 40cm and a maximum of 67cm. Each bloom opens into a delightfully rounded petal with a gorgeous rounded center. Flowers are followed by capsules that are sub oblong to ovoid, 4 valved, 1 cm across with smooth, compressed, brown ovoid seeds. Flowering normally takes place from Jul to August and seeds starts ripening from Aug to September.


There are two varieties of Dianthus barbatus which are listed below

  • Dianthus barbatus var. barbatus: Southern Europe. Leaves broader, up to 2 cm broad
  • Dianthus barbatus var. asiaticus Nakai: Northeastern Asia. Leaves slenderer, not over 1 cm broad

Culinary uses

  • Flowers are edible, have a mild flavor and are used as a garnish for vegetable and fruit salads, cakes, desserts, cold drinks, tea and sorbet.
  • Petals of Sweet William will add zest to ice cream, sorbets, salads, fruit salad, dessert sauces, seafood and stir-fries.

Other Facts

  • Sweet William is a popular ornamental plant in gardens, planted in pots, flats or in beds.
  • Plant produces nectar that attracts birds, bees, moths and butterflies.
  • In Scotland the flower is known as stinking Willie or sour Billy.
  • Flower would make a lovely addition to a wedding bouquet, table centerpiece or just about any style of flower arrangement.
  • Sweet William will attract hummingbirds and butterflies into the garden.
  • This flower symbolizes gallantry.

















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