A visitor to Scotland will find that the thistle, a spiny weed with either a bright purple or yellow flower, is one of the most visible symbols in the country.

So how did this lowly weed become so revered? In short, no one knows, according to

But legends abound, the most enduring of which is a tale of war. The story goes that in the Middle Ages, Viking invaders were making incursions into Scotland. On one such raid, a band of sleeping Scots was nearly overtaken by the bellicose Danes. But one of the attackers stepped on a wild thistle and cried out in pain. The noise awakened the Scots who proceeded to rout the invaders, the Web site says.

Even though there is no historical evidence to back the legend, the thistle has been an enduring national emblem. The site says that perhaps the first use of the emblem was on silver coins issued in 1470 during the reign of James III. And, from the early 16th century, it was incorporated into the Royal Arms of Scotland.

Scotland’s Order of Chivalry, established in 1687, is The Most Ancient and Noble Order of the Thistle. Its members wear a collar chain whose links are made of golden thistles, according to the site.

But my favorite is the use of the weed by the Knights and Ladies of the Thistle. Members wear a breast star with a thistle emblem. Their motto is “Nemo Me Impune Lacessit,” or “no one provokes me with impunity.”

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