The Thistle of Scotland

When most people look at the Scottish emblem, it is not uncommon for them to wonder how such an insignificant plant made it to national emblem status. The thistle is also not the most attractive plant in Scotland, but what it is, is tough and extremely prickly. And just to add to confusion, exactly how the thistle came to be the national emblem, standing proudly next to the Scottish motto: “Nemo me impune lacessit”, meaning “No-one harms me without punishment”, depends on who you talk to.

It is said that the thistle became the savior of the Scottish in a time when Vikings where invading land and plundering villages. During one dark and silent night, the Vikings were preparing for battle while the Scottish lay resting under a starlit sky. To approach the Scots, without raising alarm and forewarning of their arrival, they chose to take off their shoes so that they could quietly move across the land.

Unfortunately, they did not know that the fields were home to thistles and when the Vikings stepped on the thistles the tough spikes of the thistles bore deep into their feet, causing the men to cry out in pain and agony. Of course these cries awoke the sleeping Scottish, who were able to fight off the advancing Vikings without much of a battle. Being saved from the Vikings by the thistles is definitely a good enough reason to make it a national emblem. In addition, it also bares characteristics to the Scottish such as their toughness and not being able to uproot them from their land without a fight.

The other version of this story is said to have happened in the 11th century and this time it was the Danes that tried to attack a Scottish castle. The Danes tried to approach the castle as quietly as possible and therefore they had removed their shoes. What looked like a moat surrounding the castle was very deceiving under the blanket of night. When the attacking soldiers jumped into the moat to swim across to the castle they were horribly surprised to realize that the moat was filled with thistles instead of water. Jumping barefooted into a lake of thistles led to the Danes retreating in pain.

Whether it was the Vikings or Danes who were trying to attack Scottish clansmen, castle or army, the outcome remains the same. The attackers fled in pain and embarrassment and the Scottish were victorious. Today, the thistle can be seen on many logos, letterheads and advertisements to signify that the roots of the items, products or companies are truly Scottish and displayed with pride.