The thistle (Cirsium) is the national emblem of the country of Scotland. It is well known for its needle-sharp bristles and regal purple flowers.
Thistles grow from 1 to 3 feet high. The flowers can add another foot in height. The blossoms are most often purple, but can be rose, yellow or white as well. They are common throughout the United States.
As a Symbol
The thistle flower has been the emblem of Scotland since the 13th century. It was first used as a royal symbol on silver coins issued by James III in the year 1470.
A historical legend credits the thistle with protecting Scotland from invaders. According to the tale, some Viking attackers were attempting a raid under cover of darkness, when they stepped barefoot onto a patch of thistles. Their cries of pain awoke the Scots, who repelled them.
Thistle serves as a host plant for Little Metalmark and Painted Lady butterflies, and the flower nectar attracts many other butterflies, including the Black Swallowtail. The seeds are a favorite food of the goldfinch.
The thistle has the unusual ability to move toward anything that disturbs it, a property scientists call thigmonastic motion.
- The Thistle of Scotland
- Scottish Thistle
- Purple Thistle
thistle plant, cirsium, national emblem of Scotland
About this Author
Gwen Bruno has 28 years of experience as a teacher and librarian, and is now a full-time freelance writer. She holds a bachelor's degree from Augustana College and master's degrees from North Park University and the University of Wisconsin. She writes articles about gardening for DavesGarden.com.