When it comes time to look for a flower to represent an entire nation, few would consider choosing a weed. Scotland’s choice of the thistle as its national emblem is due to more than identification with the heartiness and prickliness of the bane of gardeners. The thistle has an enduring place in the hearts and history of the Scots.
It was King Alexander III (1249-1286) who adopted the thistle as the Emblem of Scotland. He did so out of recognition of the role the prickly plant played in defending against an invasion by Norway.
In 1263 King Haakon IV of Norway invaded Scotland at the Coast of Largs. His troops landed at night, and initially, it appeared the plan to take the Highlanders by surprise would pay off. To make themselves even more undetectable, the Norsemen removed their footwear so they could creep stealthily through the darkness.
Although the defending clansmen were asleep, there was one Scottish resident that remained on guard: the thistle. One of the advancing barefoot Norsemen stepped on a spiny piece of vegetation and shrieked in pain. His cry alerted the Scots, who rose from their slumber and fended off the would-be conquerors.
The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, the second-highest order of chivalry in Scotland, bears the motto “Nemo me impune lacessit.” (“No one assails me with impunity.”) It speaks not only for those members of the Order but for all Scots — people and plant — as a warning to never underestimate a Scot.
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