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Botanical Inspiration: Thistles

by Grace Bonney

When I told Amy that I was working on a roundup inspired by thistles, she gave me the “Are you crazy?” face. But when I told her the inspiration, , I slowly won her over. Thistles have long been a symbol of nobility and strength, and while I didn’t see an abundance of them popping up in modern design, I found great examples of them online in both vintage goods and contemporary artwork. I’ve rounded up 20 of my favorite examples in the hope that this classic flower and symbol will make a comeback with a younger audience. I’ve always loved the thorny-but-beautiful look of thistles, so I hope their prickly appearance will appeal to some of you reading. Happy shopping! xo, grace

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Image above: Thistle medallions by

15 more thistle designs after the jump . . .

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  • So nice to see this roundup. Thistles, ginkgos, ferns, and bamboo are my faves–the only patterns other than some geometrics and abstracts that I truly love. Yes indeed, the symbol of Scotland, a bee attractant, an intriguing silhouette, a rich natural dye, and on and on. See also thistle recipes, which I confess I haven’t tried:

  • I also love thistles! I wanted to pick some dried ones from my back alley for a Fall vase display but thought it might be too weird, but I am now inspired. Their form and structure are beautiful even if they are considered by many to be a nuisance in their gardens. Kind of like dandelions (which was the motif on my wedding invitations 4 years ago…). Thanks for this post!

  • Gillianne, we eat several types of thistle here in Spain and they are delicious. You should try a recipe! I’d most closely identify it with the flavor of asparagus.

  • Oh I love thistles! I have a proud Scottish heritage so I’m pretty much genetically disposed to like them:) Plus it’s such a fun word to say. That thistle ring is really unique!

  • There is certainly an innate beauty in the thistle form. Thought you might be interested in a local restaurant by that very name that, apart from the recognition they’ve received for their food, has incorporated “thistle” into its decor beautifully… check out that wallpaper!

  • Grace: Thank you for including my painting! I love thistle. The shape and silhouette is so beautiful, not to mention all of the little creatures that feed and forage from the seed heads. Everything from goldfinches to hummingbird moths and swallowtail butterflies.

  • Oh, thank you so much for this post! Many years ago, my husband’s Scottish grandfather owned the “Thistle Dairy” in Fredericton, New Brunswick (Canada). Ten years ago, my husband and I bought a house on Thistle Street in the capital city of Nova Scotia.It wasn’t intentional at all, but we like the coincidence. I swore I would NEVER put wallpaper up after scraping 80 year old paper off almost every wall of our house, but I’m sorely tempted by the wallpaper by Morris and Co.

  • Abbie, thanks for the encouragement about thistle recipes. Where I live now, milkweed replaces thistles, but I would like a chance for my taste buds to appreciate them as much as my eyes do.

  • I never thought much about thistles, but these are lovely! I have a set of those sarreguemines plates in dessert size and a couple of dinner plates, found in a second-hand shop for under a euro. I love the thistle fabric and am so glad to see Giardino featured here.

  • So glad you gave Timorous Beasties a mention, I did work experience there years ago. Paul and Aly are amazing, the studio is fantastic such a talented pair of lads! They inspire and influence so many.

  • I love thistles – what a gorgeous collection!
    I especially love the lampshade with the design on the inside and the beautiful thistle ceramic medallions.
    Thanks so much for including my hand printed thistle linen fabric yardage with the other beauties!

  • So many lovely things here. Most of the thistles that grow here are covered, from top to bottom with very sharp, prickly needles (even the seeds, which float on the wind like dandelion seeds, are somewhat sharp), so I try to stay as far away from them as possible. I’m loving the examples here, no reason to stay away from them!

  • I couldn’t figure out why so many hits on my Etsy site for one antique illustration.
    Then with the shop statistics, I traced my little print to your beautiful article on thistles.
    I sold my original within minutes but I do have art cards of the same image and larger poster sized thistle prints on my other shops

    Thanks so much for featuring my Nodding Thistle.
    I have book marked this lovely website.

  • Good call, Grace! My mom opened my eyes to the beauty of thistles… she’s been painting them and using them in her decor for years. She’s actually just starting an Etsy shop and named it Fox & Thistle, which are both native to this hill where we live.

  • I love all the botanical inspiration and beauty featured in this post and others on D*S. In the interest of furthering our knowledge, the plant on the “Thistle iphone case” is not a thistle but appears to be Sea Holly, a cultivar from the genus Eryngium. It is also spiky and striking!

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