Friday, April 24, 2015

The Scottish Thistle

The thistle is the national flower of Scotland. After reading Eve Blantyre Simpson's book, Folk Lore in Lowland Scotland, which was published in 1908, I know why. It seems like an excellent national flower.

Cover of Folk Lore in Lowland Scotland;
courtesy of Internet Archive

"As to the thistle, 'poverty, ill-luck, enterprise, and constant resolution are the fibers of the legend of this country's history,' says Conan Doyle, while another modern writer endorses the statement, 'cold and poverty and storm are the nurses of the qualities which make for empire.' The Scot's land, that 'barren ridge of hills between two inclement sea-ways,' as Robert Louis Stevenson calls his native country, elected for its emblematic flower no summer-blooming, sun-nursed rose, or fond as she is of doctrine did she choose a plant explanatory of religion, but history or tradition fixed for the Spartanly-nursed north on the hardy, prickly thistle whose seeds spread on the wings of the wind and which roots and flourishes in apparently stony soil. Cackling geese saved sleeping Rome, likewise the thistle gave Scotland timely warning, and her people were grateful to it for averting disaster.

The invading Danes had stolen on the sleeping camp of opposing natives, but the latter were florally guarded. The thistle undertook to act as a barbed wire entanglement. Nature reared it in the dark ages when modern tactics were undreamt of. The thistle's lancet-shaped foliage made the stealthily-creeping, bare-legged Danes give tongue. The Scots heard their smothered curses, awoke, and armed. 

That is how, some say, the repulsing thistle was adopted as Scotland's insignia, along with its defiant motto, 'Ye daurna meddle wi' me,' which became in the sleeker Latin tongue under British Solomon's orders, 'Nemo me impune lacessit.'

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