The Thistle

From JFA newsletter no. 9, October 1994

Scotland's national emblem is the thistle. The plant was chosen because it was instrumental in protecting the country from invaders.

From the end of the 8th century, and on and off for a period of three hundred years, the Vikings carried out raids around the coast of Scotland. During one such attack, a band of sea warriors was marching barefoot to carry out a surprise attack on a Scottish position. But, one of the invaders trod on a thistle and let out such a cry that it alerted the defenders and the raiders were driven off.


The true Scotch Thistle (Onopordum acanthium) is not a common plant in Scotland; other members of the thistle family are much more likely to be seen growing wild. But, the plant has secured its place in the lore of the land - it is, along with the oak, the clan badge of the Stewarts, the royal family who inherited the Scottish throne in 1371. When James IV of Scotland married Margaret Tudor of England, the Scots poet Dunbar wrote a poem "The Thistle and the Rose" in honor of the occasion in 1503.

The plant was a traveler. Over two hundred years ago, American naturalist, John Bartram wrote of how the thistle reached America. "A Scotch minister brought with him a bed stuffed with thistle down on which contained some seed. The inhabitants having plenty of feathers, soon turned out the down and filled the bed with feathers. The seeds coming up filled that part of the country with thistles."

Editor's Note: Thistles in a small bud vase, along with the flag of Scotland in a wooden stand, placed in the center of a square of tartan, were used as centerpieces for both evening dinners during the 1994 reunion of the Junkins Family Association in York, Maine.

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