Next to the kilt, the bagpipes and whisky, there is nothing quite as Scottish as the thistle. I am the national flower of Scotland.

How that came about has to do with the period in which Scotland was still being ravaged by barbarian Vikings, about 1200 years ago.

Legend has it that enemy Northmen had planned to surprise the Scottish army with its pants down, by attacking at night. To make as little noise as possible, the bearded ruffians took off their shoes and went barefoot.

As they crept towards the Scottish warriors, one of them stepped right on a thistle, yelled out in pain, and immediately woke the Scots.

The Scottish troops engaged the Northmen, vanquished them, and adopted the purple thistle, which had saved the day, as their national symbol. Is the story true? Well, maybe. It’s a good story, anyway.

So now I appear on all sorts of Scottish emblems and coins, and since 1687 there’s even been an ‘Order of the Thistle’ – the highest order of chivalry in the land – with admission awarded to Scots who have made a particularly outstanding contribution to national life.

Whether the ‘Scottish thistle’ is actually a milk thistle, or some other relative, is still being argued by the experts; some suspect that it is either cotton thistle (Onopordum acanthium) or musk thistle (Carduus nutans), but others are certain that it is spear thistle (Cirsium vulgare).

A thorny issue.