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Scottish or spear thistle

Growing from a base of leaves this stout thistle can reach between half and over a metre in height under favourable conditions. The plant is often solitary and has leaves, which are very spiny and sharp, with yellow tipped spines.

The spear thistle is biennial (living for two years) and the first year’s growth can be seen from early the following spring. It flowers between July and September, producing sweet smelling purple flowers on top of a spiky stalk, the flowers being very attractive to bumble bees.  The mature seed heads are favourite food of goldfinches in the autumn.

Found in bare ground and waste places where its windblown seeds are carried on thistledown. It does not do well in woodland or marshy areas.

In 1687, King James II created a new Scottish order of knighthood. He instituted, the Order of the Thistle. However, long before this the Scottish kings had used the thistle as a heraldic device. Many people incorrectly assume that the cotton thistle (Onopordum acanthium) is the heraldic emblem, as it is often referred to as the Scottish thistle. The thistle that had become recognised as the true Scottish emblem by 1503, was in fact, the spear thistle.