Why The Thistle Deserves More Credit Than Being Called a “Weed”

the Thistle
Originally published in the September 2020 issue of Lakeside Living magazine. Click here for the magazine issue.

“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

As children, we tend to believe all blooms are flowers. At least I did. Daisies and dandelions brought as much joy as magnolias or marigolds. Later on, I learned that my carefully collected wildflower bouquets were mostly weeds. Well-meaning adults pointed them out. I felt the keen edge of disappointment creep in as I looked at the blossoms I had admired only a moment ago. 

And so I learned that a division exists even in the world of flowers.  

What is a weed? Something unsightly, unwanted, a nuisance? Even the name tends to conjure negativity. But it’s hard not to admire their strength and tenacity. Weeds are the leafy epitome of resiliency. Not to mention, they often serve a vital purpose in nature. So, as is often the case in life, there are two ways of looking at a weed. 

Thistles, in particular, have garnered somewhat of a bad reputation. Most of the time, we search for ways to get rid of these spiky plants that can take over pasturelands and prevent livestock from grazing. While non-native thistles can be a problem, native thistles are vital to the health of butterflies and bees in need of its nectar. Birds and insects thrive by feeding on the thistle’s stems, leaves, and seeds. 

A weed though it may be, the thistle is also undeniably striking. The brilliant pink and fiery hues of the spiky blooms glow like fireworks bursting across a night sky. 

Centuries ago, the people of Scotland recognized the thistle’s strength and beauty. Legend has it that the prickly needles of a thistle saved a group of sleeping Scottish warriors from an ambush, proving that one person’s weed is another’s savior. While England may have a traditional rose as its national flower, the Scottish proudly embraced their thorny weed, bestowing it the honor as an emblem of their country. 

Although we might be disappointed when life doesn’t always come up roses, that’s ok. There’s beauty to be discovered in the so-called “weeds,” even amidst the thorns and thistles. 

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