Saturday, June 7, 2014

Symbolism and the Scottish Thistle

on walk, June 2014
"All my life I have tried to pluck a thistle and plant a flower 
wherever the flower would grow in thought and mind." --Abraham Lincoln

And I thought it was just another weed...

My walk the other day was just what I needed. Warm, but not too warm. Light breezes... jays...

...sunshine on pastures...

But it was the regal crown of a flower atop a spiky thistle stem that caught my eye.

As is often the case, something of interest sends me off on a journey of discovery (hmmmm, shouldn't I be writing?) and I wanted to see what I could learn about this plant.

Turns out "regal" is an apt choice of words. Many might already know this, but the thistle is the national flower and symbol of the country of Scotland. The Order of the Thistle is Scotland's highest chivalric order ["chivalric" (adj): pertaining to chivalry; "chivalry" (n): the combination of qualities expected of an ideal knight, especially courage, honor, justice and a readiness to help the weak" from]. Prince William as well the Queen of England and Prince Philip are knights in the order. The thistle appears on silver coins and other numerous objects including jewelry, soaps, and tea-towels.

Legend has it that the thistle was named the symbol of Scotland way back in the mid-13th century when soldiers from Norway tried to spring a surprise invasion on the people of Scotland. According to lore, the Norsemen came ashore at night, shed their boots, and advanced barefoot so the noise of their movement would not be detected. The plan backfired when those bare feet came down on the Scottish thistle--and they howled in pain waking the sleeping Scots who then subdued them. Whether or not the story is true, the symbolism of the thistle (ahem, sorry for the pun) took root and is honored to this day. 

Other facts about the thistle include that it is a biennial plant, meaning it takes two years to complete its life cycle. It reseeds easily. It's a combination of beauty and ruggedness. It has a spreading, invasive root system, hence its classification as weed.

It also attracts the cheery goldfinch and fritillary butterflies. Oh, and was a favorite food of Eeyore in A.A. Milne's The House at Pooh Corner--although Tigger found out it was his least favorite!

I'm feeling an affinity to the thistle. Maybe because my great-great-(how many greats back?) grandfather, John Young (1764-1854) came from Path Head, Scotland. And because I think it's a fitting symbol for a writer. After all, it's beautiful but tough, stubborn yet resilient. It flourishes despite all obstacles in the way. Its seeds (words?) sustain others.

Yep, I have more respect for the thistle. I might even adopt it as my signature writing flower. 

If you were to choose a plant that represents writing to you, what might it be? I'd love to hear your choices.

(and for a real treat) Explore Thistles on Pinterest


  1. Your images are lovely. We have lots of Russian thistle around here that needs to be snuffed out, or it will take over a field. We also have Chinese thistle, which we call Chinaman's Lettuce. And the Scottish thistle is reputedly part of the Ensley family crest. So I am familiar with thistles! And have gotten poked many, many times while weeding my shrub borders.

    Anyway, the plant that represents writing to me is fields of red poppies. Not because they were the opium poppies that led the men of Homer's Odyssey into deep, oblivious slumber. (I sure loved the Odyssey.)

    But because a field of red poppies represents passion and freedom to me, and passion and freedom are two of the most important words in the English language to me. And I'm sure they play into my writing, somehow.

  2. Oh I love this! I have some Scottish in my background, so this was especially neat to read :) As for what plant represents writing to me, I'm not sure. Maybe some sort of deciduous tree because they show and go through different seasons. Likewise, writers (no matter where they are on their writing journey) go through changes and ups and downs, growth and quiet times, rejections and full-on moments of blooming.

  3. I like your idea of having a signature writing flower, and the thistle sounds about perfect for the job.

  4. Cathy, you've done it again--given me insight and inspiration. I didn't know there were also Russian and Chinese thistles! And I appreciate you sharing your thoughts on the red poppy as being your representative choice of flower. Great thoughts...

    Jess, you've gone another direction, and I love it. Seasons, changes, growth, etc. etc. What better symbol than the tree. You've given me much to think about, too. Thanks. And it's been fun to learn that you and Cathy both have a bit of the Scottish in your families, as well:-)

    Barbara, it's been fun to play with the idea of signature flower for writers. Glad you enjoyed the topic, too :-) Have a great rest of the week...

  5. Hmmm ... I don't know as much about plants as you do, Kenda, My dad used to grow green beans and tomatoes for the family cannery. In the summer, I grow geraniums and begonias, which don't suffer too much for my lack of a green thumb. I love impatiens but try NOT to grow them because they need more care than I'm willing to give. They wilt unless they're watered a lot (at least in our sunny yard, they do). So maybe I'd pick impatiens - lots of color when all is going well, can grow pretty big (again if all goes well), but need almost daily care to make that happen.

  6. I never knew any of this. I like that you might choose the thistle as your flower. If I could pick any flower, it would be the lilac. I like that they bloom early in the spring after a tough winter. I miss them here in Fl but loved them up north.

  7. I did not know about the thistle - that's interesting! I do my best to wrestle them out of my garden and flower beds. I may look at them in a different light now. :) Hmm, if I had to choose a flower to represent my writing, I might choose the daisy. They were my Mom's favorite, and if she were still here, she'd cheer me on in my writing journey.

    Have a wonderful week! :)

  8. Peggy, I chuckled at your comment since it appears I've been misleading. I do not know much about plants at all, especially about keeping them alive! Hubby is the gardener around here. But I'm good at researching facts about them :-) I can relate to your choice of the impatiens. Like with words, it sounds like all is great when the flowers flourish but they need daily nurturing to make that happen.

    Terri, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I, too, love the lilac, a flower that welcomes a fresh new start after the winter. Another flower to represent the writer!

    Karen, another great choice, the daisy :-) Cheerful and encouraging just like I'm sure your mom was. Thanks for adding to our list. It's all been a fun discussion... :-)