The Scottish Thistle – The National Flower of Scotland (thistle meaning)
The Scottish Thistle is one of Scotland’s most recognizable and well-known symbols, and it is the country’s oldest known “National Flower of Scotland“
However, despite the fact that it might look familar, you probably aren’t familiar with the myths surrounding its selection as the Scottish nation’s emblem.
What could be better than a native plant that is as bold as it is beautiful? A humble weed may seem like an odd choice for a symbol, but what could be?
We’ll look more closely at some of the thistle’s legends and rich history in the following paragraphs.
The History & Legends Of The Scottish Thistle
The Scottish thistle is a hardy little weed that has always bloomed throughout Scotland’s countryside, but it wasn’t until the 13th century that it started to be included in the nation’s symbolism and recorded history.
One of the most well-known thistle legends occurs during a surprise Norse king Haakon invasion at Largs (a coastal town in western Scotland) in the middle of the 13th century.
According to the legend, after arriving on the shore, this Viking force intended to ambush the Scottish Clansmen and Highlanders at night and defeat them.
They had to move with such stealth that they had to go barefoot, which ultimately proved to be their downfall.
Unluckily for the unwary invaders, one of their soldiers stepped directly on a Scottish thistle with his bare feet, and his screams of pain and shock were enough to awaken the dozing Scots.
The clansmen leaped to their feet and charged into the fray; the rest, as they say, is history, and yes, the fiery Scots prevailed.
According to Leggett, the thistle was immediately selected as the nation’s emblem due to the plant’s heroism in the battle’s outcome.
Nobody knows for sure how much of this is accurate, but by the 15th century, the Scottish thistle was being used as a national symbol.
During the reign of King James III (1466–1488), it can be seen on silver coins that were produced in 1470, and at the beginning of the 16th century it was an essential component of Scotland’s Coat of Arms.
The Scottish poet William Dunbar appears to have been inspired to write “The Thrissil and The Rois” (also known as “The Thistle and The Rose”) in 1503 by King James IV of Scotland and Princess Margaret Tudor of England.
King James was represented by the thistle, and Princess Margaret by the rose.
The highest chivalric order in Scotland, known as “The Order of the Thistle,” is thought to have been established by King James V (the son of King James IV) around the middle of the same century.
Its heraldic emblem was the simple thistle, as might be expected.
Nemo me impune lacessit, which translates from Latin to mean “No one provokes me with impunity” (or, in Scottish-English, “Wha daur meddle wi’ me? “), is the organization’s official motto and perfectly ties in with the myth.
It’s interesting to think that this order may have originated much earlier because some historians think James V was reviving a much older order, possibly dating back to the early ninth century.
If so, the thistle would have been a part of Scottish symbolism before it made its appearance in the Viking-Scots battle at Largs as a defender of the realm.
Today, the thistle is a widely recognized Scottish symbol that can be found on sporrans, jewelry, soap, tea towels, and many other items.
That little weed has progressed considerably!
About The Thistle Of Scotland
The Latin name of this plant, Onopordum Acanthium, is also known as the “Cotton Thistle,” which refers to the fact that it has a two-year life cycle.
The first year is dedicated to the “basic” growth of the plant’s leaves, roots, and stems. The second year is dedicated to flowering, after which the plant dies.
Fortunately, thistles are easy to reseed, and new plants will grow every year close to the original.
In fact, the Thistle “grows like a weed,” as anyone who has actually encountered it will attest, and that is the truth!
This thistle can reach a height of up to eight feet and a width of more than four feet during its second year.
You can only imagine how impressive (and dangerous) this plant can be when you consider that, in spite of the soft, downy flowers, the majority of it is covered in incredibly sharp thorns.
If you’ve ever stepped on a thistle, you can empathize with the unfortunate Vikings in the aforementioned legend.
This plant has a very tenacious and invasive root system, probably because it is a weed, making it difficult to completely eradicate it from a plot of land.
The thistles will return the following year if even a small portion of the root is missed.
Five Facts about National Flower of Scotland
There’s more than one
Nobody is entirely certain which of the many thistle species that can be found in Scotland—some of which are native and others exotic—is the true emblem of the country. Is it the Musk Thistle or the Spear? Or perhaps it’s Our Lady’s Thistle or the poetic-sounding Melancholy Thistle? What about cotton thistle, then?
Which one might it be? Your hunch is just as valid as ours.
See more: Why Is The Unicorn Scotland’s National Animal?
It’s inspired poetry
The thistle inspired one of the best and most influential poems in the Scottish literary canon, Hugh MacDiarmid’s A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle, an epic, stream-of-consciousness poem that touches on everything from the state of the country and the mysteries of the universe to the wondrous joy that is whisky. Forget A Red, Red Rose, Rabbie Burns’ ode to romantic love.
It’s required reading for anyone organizing a trip to Scotland, to put it briefly.
A badge of honour
For more than 500 years, the thistle has served as a significant emblem in Scottish heraldry. It also stands for one of the highest honors a person can receive from the nation. The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, which was established by James VII and II in 1687, is a chivalric order that honors individuals who have made outstanding contributions to Scotland and the wider United Kingdom. HM The Most Noble Order of the Garter has more precedence than the Order of the Thistle, which is only invested by the Queen.
See more: Why Does Scotland Have Two Flags? (Scotland Flag Meaning)
Thistles are not only found in fields, parks, and gardens. If you keep an eye out, you will notice the insignia emblem popping up all over Scotland, including on the uniforms of police officers, local businesses, major organizations, and football and rugby clubs.
Topic: The Scottish Thistle – The National Flower of Scotland (thistle meaning)
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By: Travel Pixy