Walking down to the Coromandel’s Cathedral Cove last week with friends from Scotland I was surprised to hear one exclaim delight at seeing a butterfly alighting on a thistle. She asked me to take a photo (I do so love the Scottish accent!).
In New Zealand thistles are considered weeds.
There was no butterfly – just a common old paper moth. Paper moths are not pretty, they’re a bit of a nuisance.
The phrase ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’ sprang to mind.
The thistles we think of as weeds serve as the Scottish national emblem. You see them stylised in silver jewellery, you see them on postcards and posters, and according to our friends – they are traditionally used for buttonholes at weddings. They have a long history – are much loved and highly regarded.
Apparently the origin of its use as an emblem dates back to Scotland’s ancient order of chivalry known as “The Order of the Thistle.” It relates to the war between the Scottish and the Vikings of Denmark. When the Vikings attempted to surprise the Scots in a night attack, one of them supposedly placed his bare foot on a thistle causing him to dry out in pain alerting the Scots to his presence.
After this Viking episode, the thistle became known as the “Guardian Thistle” and, under James III, it became the badge of the Stuarts. Today it is the insignia of the Scottish guard and has been used on coins, bank notes, stamps and broad swords. It even decorates the tomb of Mary, Queen of Scots.
Given the legend surrounding the Scottish thistle, the plant clearly denotes bravery, courage and loyalty in the face of treachery. The tough, painful spikes of the plant itself suggest endurance and fortitude. As plant expert Arthur Lee Jacobson says about another thistle, “Though we cannot beat, nor like, nor use the damn thing, we must at least respect it as a formidable foe.”
I learned something on our walk and now have more respect for this prickly fiend. I still have nothing good to say about paper moths.