A trail cuts through a Scottish forest full of bluebells in bloom
A trail cuts through a Scottish forest full of bluebells in bloom

Scotland’s green hills and forests harbor several flower species but two have gained recognition as national symbols. The thistle is the flower officially associated with Scotland, showing up in heraldry, logos and artwork. However, the Scottish bluebell also is considered a national flower of Scotland, owing to its ubiquitous presence across the country.

Thistle: The National Emblem

Close-up view of Scottish thistles
Close-up view of Scottish thistles

The thistle is Scotland’s national flower, although it’s unclear which exact species of thistle this is supposed to be. Visit Scotland, the national tourist bureau, says five different species have been presented as possible candidates. The reasons why the thistle became the national flower are unclear, but the general story is that an invader stepped on a thistle and yelped while trying to ambush some Scottish warriors, thus ruining the ambush. Thistles have a pink to purple flowerhead on top of a round, spiky body, and the stems are covered with thorns and sharp, spiky leaves -- handy defenses against foraging animals and careless Norse invaders.

Scottish Bluebell: The Unofficial Favorite

Field of bluebells grown near the Church of St. John in Ballachulish, Scotland
Field of bluebells grown near the Church of St. John in Ballachulish, Scotland

The Scottish bluebell or harebell (Campanula rotundifolia) is not the official flower of Scotland but it’s often seen as an unofficial representative. In 2014, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh named Scottish bluebell as Scotland’s favorite flower based on votes in an online survey. The Scottish bluebell is a blue to bluish-purple bell-shaped flower that stands fairly erect and has somewhat-pointed petals. It should not be confused with the English bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), which has thinner blooms that droop more and have more rounded petal edges.