The purple-flowered thistle rose is Scotland’s National flower. Scotland is home to not just one but several varieties of thistle, some native and others exotic.
Thistles aren’t just found in gardens, parks and in the countryside. Keep your eyes peeled and you will see the insignia emblem cropping up all over Scotland, from the strip of the international rugby team and football clubs to local businesses and major organizations and corporations, to the uniforms of police officers.
Thistle is the common name of a group of flowering plants characterized by leaves with sharp prickles on the margins. Prickles occur all over the plant – on the stem and flat parts of leaves. They are an adaptation that protects the plant from being eaten by herbivores. Typically, an involucre with a clasping shape of a cup or urn subtends each of a thistle’s flowerheads.
Legend has it that at some point during the invasion the Norsemen tried to surprise the sleeping Scottish Clansmen. 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 at the Battle of Largs, thus saving Scotland from invasion. The important role that the thistle had played was recognized and so was chosen as Scotland’s national emblem.
The first use of the thistle as a royal symbol of Scotland was on silver coins issued by James III in 1470.