What Is the National Flower of Scotland?

thistle image by Henryk Olszewski from Fotolia.com

The national flower of Scotland is the thistle; it has been an emblem of the country for more than 700 years. According to ancient legend, the thistle's prickly petals saved the Scots from brutal attack during an invasion by the Norse.

Today, traditional Scottish families wear a thistle insignia, and it is a popular design for contemporary jewellery.

Legend of the Thistle

During the Middle Ages, as the story goes, the thistle flower saved Scotland from a brutal invasion by the Norsemen. In the hopes of ambushing the Scottish army, one of the Norse soldiers took his boots off to creep softly along the grass towards the unsuspecting Scots. When he stepped on a prickly thistle, he cried out in pain. Consequently, the noise alerted the Scottish army, which drove the would-be invaders out of Scotland. This event is known as the Battle of Largs. The thistle flower, therefore, became known as "The Guardian Thistle."

History of the Thistle

The first issue of the thistle as the official royal emblem of Scotland occurred during the reign of James III in 1470 and was recognised as the royal badge of The Stuarts, the British monarchy who ruled Scotland from 1371 to 1714. By 1474, the image of the thistle flower was engraved on silver coinage. And by 1570, King James V established the most prestigious and noble honour of knighthood in Scotland, known as "The Order of the Thistle."


The thistle flower, according to Houseofnames.com, is an ancient heraldic emblem symbolising pain and suffering. The ancient Greek botanist Dioscorides said the thistle flower could treat people suffering from melancholy.

Physical Traits

Although there are many types of thistles, these flowers possess common traits such as needle-like spines, green foliage and light purple, prickly-shaped flowers. Their stems grow from 18 inches to 5 feet high. Interestingly, their seeds, which contain a structure of silky hairs similar to the traits of a dandelion, spread widely during windy conditions.

Popular Uses

According to Botanical.com, the Scotch thistle (also known as Cotton thistle), grows abundantly throughout England, and its cotton fibres are used to stuff pillows. In addition, the oil extracted from Scotch thistle seeds is used throughout Europe in old-style oil lamps and also for culinary purposes. In Scotland, the image of the thistle flower is still seen on modern-day bank notes.

Invasive Species

According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, thistles are considered a major pest in the United States and parts of the U.K (according to NoMorePests.co.uk) because they injure grain crops and other useful forage. And because thistles are seen as invasive weeds, they must, by law, be eradicated from private property.