Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed. Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.

Thistle


Thistle Weedy species of Cirsium, Carduus, Echinops, Sonchus, and other plant genera of the family Asteraceae. The word thistle most often refers to prickly leaved species of Carduus and Cirsium, which have dense heads of small, usually pink or purple flowers. Plants of the genus Carduus, sometimes called plumeless thistles, have spiny stems and flower heads without ray flowers.

Scottish thistle is also called cotton thistle or Scott's thistle. Plants produce a large rosette of spiny, silvery-white foliage the first year of growth. The following year thick triangular stems grow up to 6 feet tall and are topped with lavender thistle-like flowers. They prefer full sun and well-drained soil. It may become a weed if plants are allowed to self seed freely. Trim the flower heads before they set seed to control it.

Every school-child in Scotland learns the legend of how the thistle, their national emblem, saved the country in the Middle Ages, when the Scots and Norsemen were at war. Under cover of darkness, the Norsemen managed to land unobserved on the coast of Scotland. Removing their boots, they crept on bare feet toward the unsuspecting Scottish army. Suddenly, a sharp cry of pain shattered the stillness: A Norse soldier had stepped on a thistle. Thus alerted to the surprise attach, the Scots sprang into action and drove the invaders from their shores.

The Scotch Thistle, or Cotton Thistle (Onopordon Acanthium) is one of the most beautiful of British plants, not uncommon in England, by roadsides and in waste places, particularly in chalky and sandy soils in the southern counties.

---Description---It is a biennial, flowering in late summer and autumn. The erect stem, 18 inches to 5 feet high, is very stout and much branched, furnished with wing-like appendages (the decurrent bases of the leaves) which are broader than its own diameter. The leaves are very large, waved and with sharp prickles on the margin. The flowers are light purple and surrounded with a nearly globular involucre, with scales terminating in strong, yellow spines.

The whole plant is hoary with a white, cottony down, that comes off readily when rubbed, and causes the young leaves to be quite white. From the presence of this covering, the Thistle has obtained its popular name of Cotton or Woolly Thistle.

This species is one of the stiffest and most thorny of its race, and its sharp spines well agree with Gerard's description of the plant as 'set full of most horrible sharp prickles, so that it is impossible for man or beast to touch the same without great hurt and danger.'

Which is the true Scotch Thistle even the Scottish antiquarians cannot decide, but it is generally considered to be this species of Thistle that was originally the badge of the House of Stuart, and came to be regarded as the national emblem of Scotland. The first heraldic use of the plant would appear to be in the inventory of the property of James III of Scotland, made at his death in 1458, where a hanging embroidered with 'thrissils' is mentioned. It was, undoubtedly, a national badge in 1503, in which year Dunbar wrote his poetic allegory, 'The Thrissill and the Rose,' on the union of James IV and Princess Margaret of England. The Order of the Thistle, which claims, with the exception of the Garter, to be the most ancient of our Orders, was instituted in 1540 by James V, and revived by James VII of Scotland and Second of England, who created eight Knights in 1687. The expressive motto of the Order, Nemo me impune lacessit (which would seem to apply most aptly to the species just described), appears surrounding the Thistle that occupies the centre of the coinage of James VI. From that date until now, the Thistle has had a place on our coins.

Pliny states, and mediaeval writers repeat, that a decoction of Thistles applied to a bald head would restore a healthy growth of hair.

---Medicinal Action and Uses---The Ancients supposed this Thistle to be a specific in cancerous complaints, and in more modern times the juice is said to have been applied with good effect to cancers and ulcers.

A decoction of the root is astringent and diminishes discharges from mucous membranes.

Gerard tells us, on the authority of Dioscorides and Plinv, that 'the leaves and root hereof are a remedy for those that have their bodies drawn backwards,' and Culpepper explains that not only is the juice therefore good for a crick in the neck, but also as a remedy for rickets in children. It was considered also to be good in nervous complaints.

The name of the genus is derived from the Greek words onos (an ass) and perdon (I disperse wind), the species being said to produce this effect in asses.

The juicy receptacle or disk on which the florets are placed was used in earlier times as the Artichoke - which is also a member of the Thistle tribe. The young stalks, when stripped of their rind, may be eaten like those of the Burdock.

The cotton is occasionally collected from the stem and used to stuff pillows, and the oil obtained from the seeds has been used on the Continent for burning, both in lamps and for ordinary culinary purposes. Twelve pounds of the seeds are said to produce, when heat is used in expression, about 3 lb of oil.

The greater number of the Thistles are assigned to the genus Carduus. The derivation of the name of this genus is difficult to determine; by some orders it is said to come from the Greek cheuro, a technical word denoting the operation of carding wool, to which process the heads of some of the species are applicable.

ORDER OF THE THISTLE

The Order of the Thistle represents the highest honour in Scotland, and it is second only in precedence to the Order of the Garter. The date of the foundation of the Order is not known, although legend has it that it was founded in 809 when King Achaius made an alliance with the Emperor Charlemagne. It is possible that the Order may have been founded by James III (1488-1513), who was responsible for changes in royal symbolism in Scotland, including the adoption of the thistle as the royal plant badge. It is said that James V bestowed the insignia of the 'Order of the Burr or Thissil' on Francis I of France in 1535. Around the time of the Reformation, the Order was discontinued.

Although some kind of Scottish Order of chivalry existed in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, or even much earlier, it was James II (James VII of Scotland) who established the Order with a statutory foundation under new rules in 1687 - to reward Scottish peers who supported the king's political and religious aims. (One statute required that the robe should be 'powdered over with thistles of gold'; a robe from that period still survives, scattered with more than 250 applied thistle motifs.) The statutes stated that the Order was 'to continue to consist of the Sovereign and twelve Knights-Brethren in allusion to the Blessed Saviour and his Twelve Apostles'.

After James II (and VII)'s abdication in 1688, the Order fell into disuse once more until it was revived by Queen Anne in 1703 - the number of knights remained at 12. Despite the rebellions of 1715 and 1745, the Old and Young Pretenders (Prince James and Prince Charles 'Bonnie Prince Charlie') appointed Knights of the Thistle (and Garter) in their exiles. The early Hanoverian kings also made use of the Order to reward Scottish nobles who supported the Hanoverian and Protestant cause.

Interest in the Order revived when George IV wore the Thistle during his visit to Scotland in 1822. A statute of 1827 established the complement of Knights Brethren at 16, and in 1987 a statute enabled ladies to join the Order. (Extra knights may be created by special statute.) The Princess Royal was invested in the Order of the Thistle in June 2001. In 1962, King Olav V of Norway became the first foreigner to be admitted to the Order for over 200 years.
 
The patron saint of the Order is St Andrew (also the patron saint of Scotland), who appears on the Order's badge. The breast star of the Order, instituted by George I in 1714, consists of a silver saltire with a pointed ray between each of the arms of the cross: at the centre is a gold medallion contained in an enamelled representation of the thistle, surrounded by a green border on which the Order's motto is written in gold. The motto is 'Nemo me impune lacessit' (No one harms me with impunity).

The chapel for the Order was to be at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, where James II had issued instructions in 1687 for the Abbey Church to be converted into the Chapel Royal and the Chapel of the Order. However, the political situation deteriorated and, by the time it was ready for use in December 1688, the furnishings and the stalls of the Chapel had been destroyed by a rioting mob. It was not until 1911 that the Order had a chapel, adjacent to St Giles' Cathedral in Edinburgh, in which its services and ceremonies could be held. When practicable, and when there is to be the installation of a new knight, a service of the Order is held each year during the week spent by The Queen at Holyrood.


Return to our Nature page