Why is the Thistle the National Flower of Scotland?

There’s actually a lovely legend to discover here.

You can learn it in this blog.

To any New Scots reading this – welcome!  I hope this helps you get to know your new homeland and landscape – and feel like you belong here. 

 Let’s take a quick look at the history of the thistle as one of the most famous symbols of Scotland. 

Also, for English learners there is a quick practice exercise for you at the end of the blog! 

icon of thistle for blog on Scottish culture
butterfly landiing on a thistle head

Butterfly on a thistle head, image credit : Blue Noun

Meet the Thistle

At this time of year, all across Scotland, thistles stretch up on long stems: butterflies and bumblebees briefly touch down on their swaying flower heads.

Thistles: those pinky/purple dots bright with sunlight, bobbing so familiarly before solid dark castle walls and blueish-grey mountains. They are iconic indeed.

Positive connotations are attached to this flower in Celtic culture. Thistles are seen as a sign of resiliency, strength, resolve, protection, and pride.

The flower’s hues of purple and pink are symbolic of regal splendour.

However, there is a also a legend that explains how the prickly nature of a thistle that elevated it into being the flower emblem of Scotland.

icon of thistle for blog on Scottish culture

It’s Not Because of the Scots People!

The Scottish thistle does not seem a very friendly flower, especially compared to the cheery Welsh daffodil. 

Scottish people tend to be warm and friendly.

In English, we call someone ‘prickly’ if they are moody or easily offended. This is really not very typical for Scots (even though it is still perpetuated as a cultural stereotype). 

mountain thistles and child
icon of thistle for blog on Scottish culture

Watch Your Step!

Perhaps the most famous of the legends dates back to when large parts of Scotland were under Norwegian rule.

In 1263, King Haakon of Norway set off to conquer the rest of Scotland, but a fierce storm forced some of his longships onto the beach at Largs (Ayrshire).

Legend has it that at some point these beached Norsemen tried to surprise sleeping Scottish Clansmen, but in order to move more stealthily, the Norsemen had removed their footwear.

As they crept barefoot, one stood on a thistle and shrieked out in pain and the Clansmen were alerted.

This story is narrated nicely here:
icon of thistle for blog on Scottish culture


My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart’s in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer;
Chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,
My heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I go.



My Heart’s In The Highlands, Robert Burns, 1789

Learn English with Scottish culture | blue Thistles 01

Thistles at Tomnah’a’ Market Garden,  (one of our Meet the Makers immersion English tours).


Those pinky/purple dots bright with sunlight, bobbing so familiarly before solid dark castle walls and blueish grey mountains.

Ruth, 2020

Tips for Visiting Scotland

If you are lucky enough to be visiting Scotland soon, try to do some thistle spotting.
Notice how often this symbol is used in architecture, textiles and the jewellery of the people you meet. 
Thistle brooch from ebay, learn English with Scottish culture

Immersion English

This blog is just one example of the many ways we will immerse you in Scottish culture through English immersion.

Be it history, food, whisky, our Meet the Makers programme, exploring the landscape or discovering the natural world. 

We want to get you talking in Scotland, and we do that by sharing our rich Scottish culture with you. 

We facilitate real cultural and creative exchanges happening, whether it’s in our language learning space – the Blue Noun Hub – or out and about visiting studios and workshops.

Some of our language learners join us for an English language learning holiday – and for a real taste of Perthshire.

Other English learners are New Scots, and learning English due to changing circumstances.  We share our unique English teaching with both types of learners, bringing you together to make English learning feel like fun. 

Learn more about our work with the local Ukrainian community here.


“I hope this helps you get to know your new homeland and landscape – and feel like you belong here“.

Ruth, 2021


Learn English with Scottish culture | hand touching thistles

Further Information

Thanks to Historic-UK.com for the information

Learn English with Scottish Culture

Hopefully, you have enjoyed this dip into learning English with Scottish culture. 

This blog covers a broad range of topics for English learners – some a lighthearted look at Scotland, others an in-depth look at art and culture.

If you are in Scotland over the summer, you will no doubt encounter the Scottish midge.

Get prepared! You might want to read:

Make the Most of a Trip to Scotland with 7 Unusual Midge Tips


Image credit : Robert Matejcek on GIPHY

Your English Language Challenge

What is happening in this GIF image?

Make sure you know the vocabulary for the style and techniques being used.

How can our love of Scottish history help your English?

Learn more

Further Information