The Scottish Thistle is said to be the oldest " national flower " on record, the legend of how this proud and majestic plant became a national emblem goes back many hundreds of years and is probably one of the most well-known, and easily recognized symbols of Scotland. Common throughout the highlands, islands and lowlands of Scotland. This proud and regal plant, which grows to a height of five feet, has no natural enemies because of the vicious spines that cover and protect it like a porcupine.
But although it may seem familiar, you probably don't know the legends surround its adoption as a national symbol of Scotland.
A humble weed seems to be an oddly symbolic option, but what really could be better than a native-born plant that's as bold as it is beautiful?
There are a number of different legends about how thistle becomes a symbol of Scotland, and we can find out more below :
The History & Legends Of The Scottish Thistle
The Scottish thistle is a resilient little weed that has always bloomed throughout Scotland's landscape, but it wasn't until the 13th century that it was in the symbol of the country and the history of writing began.
One of the best-known thistle legends takes place in the mid-13th century during the sudden invasion of the Nordic king's soldiers, Haakon, in the Larges (one of Scotland's western coastal towns).
The story tells that after going ashore, the Viking forces planned to climb the Clansmen and Scottish Highlands and overcome them while they slept.
In order to move more stealthily under the cover of darkness, the Norsemen removed their footwear. But as they crept barefoot, they came across an area of ground covered in thistles, and one of Haakon’s men, unfortunately, stood on one and shrieked out in pain, thus alerting the Clansmen to the advancing Norsemen.
His shout warned the Scots who defeated the Norsemen in the Great Battle, thus saving Scotland from the invasion. The important role that thistle has played has been recognized and therefore chosen as the national symbol of Scotland.
The first use of the thistle as a royal symbol of Scotland was on silver coins issued in 1470 during the reign of King James III (1466 - 1488), and early in the 16th century, it became an integral part of Scotlands' Coat of Arms.
In 1503, the marriage of King James IV of Scotland to Princess Margaret Tudor of England seemed to be the inspiration behind the poem entitled " The Thrissil and The Rois " ( "The Thistle and The Rose ") penned by the Scottish poet William Dunbar.
Thistle represented King James and rose represented Princess Margaret.
In the middle of the century, historians believed that Scotlands' highest chivalric order founded by King James V (the son of King James IV), named "The Order of The Thistle."
Its heraldic symbol was, not surprising; the thistle is very humble...
The common badge worn on the knights' left breast is a cross surrounded by a star with four silver points, and on this green circle bordered and lettered with gold, containing the motto “Nemo me impune lacessit”, “No-one harms me without punishment” but more commonly translated in Scots as “Wha daurs meddle wi me”, in the centre is the thistle.
That little weed has come a long way!
About The Thistle Of Scotland
This biennial tree (which means it takes two years to complete its life cycle) is also called the 'Cotton thistle,' and its Latin name is 'Onopordum Acanthium.'
The 'basic' development of leaves, roots, and stems takes happens during the first year, the plant flowers in the second year and then dies.
Fortunately, thistles have reseeded easily, and new plants will grow around the original every year.
In fact, anyone who actually encounters Thistle will tell you that it 'grows like a weed,' and that's true!
In the second year, this thistle can grow up to eight feet in height and over four feet in width.
When you realize that, despite the soft flowers, most of this tree is covered in extremely sharp thorns, you can imagine how impressive (and dangerous) it can be.
If you have ever stepped on a thistle, you will feel the pain of the poor Vikings in the legend.
Perhaps because it is a weed, but this tree also has a very stubborn and invasive root system, and removing the whole tree from a piece of land is not an easy task.
If you miss a bit of the root, you'll see the thistles come back in force the following year.
Scottish thistles have:
Delicately beautiful flower heads,
A stubborn and tenacious grip on the land,
The ability to challenge flourish despite efforts to eliminate it.