Border Reiver, clan badge, Clan Carruthers

CLAN CARRUTHERS: A Plant Badge for a Reiver

13th Duke of Argyll, Torquil Campbell wearing the Clan Campbell plant in his bonnet and lapel:  the Bog Myrtle (Myrica gale)

Plant Badges

Well before the first tartans had been assigned to clans and families in the early 1800’s and before the crest of the chief was depicted on a badge, clans used plants to reflect their affiliation. These included sprigs or flowers from trees, bushes or wildflowers, which grew locally.

These were worn on their bonnet or on their chest to show fealty to the Chief. Or if worn by the Chief themselves, fealty to his clan. Although it was mainly highland clans who used them, some lowland and reiver families do have them assigned to their names. However, in the same vein as the naming of the clans official tartan/s, again only a chief can decide on what that plant badge is.

Here are some examples :


  • Fraser – Yew tree (Taxus baccata) Chief – the Lady Saltoun 
  • MacLeod – Juniper (Juniperis communis) Chief – MacLeod of MacLeod
  • MacDonald – Heather (Erica vulgeris) Chief – MacDonald of MacDonald
  • Grant – Pine (Pinus Sylvestris) Chief – Grant of Grant


  • Bruce – Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus) Chief – Earl of Elgin
  • Lindsey – Lime Tree (Tilia platyphyllos) Chief – Earl of Crawford and Balcarres
  • Drummond – Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) Chief – Earl of Perth

However, as Borderers we ask if the reivers followed a similar identification process? Well there are definitely plants/plant badges associated with some, to include Carruthers, but this would be like family and clan tartans, a more modern tradition.


As alluded to above, riding families do have plants registered to their names, here are a few:

  • Eliott – White Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) Chief – Eliott of Redheugh
  • Johnstone  –  Red Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) Chief – Earl of Annandale
  • Scott – Blaeberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) Chief – Duke of Baccleuch
  • Graham – Laurel (Laurus Nobilis) Chief – Duke of Montrose
  • Jardine – Apple Blossom (Malus domestica) Chief – Jardine of Applegarth
  • Irving – Holly (Ilex aquifoliumChief – Irving of Bonshaw
  • Carruthers – Gorse (Ulex europaeus) Chief – Carruthers of Holmains
Ulex europeaus – Plant Badge of Carruthers

Carruthers Plant Badge

Most plant badges would carry a story line pertaining to the clan. This could be based on fact or legend for why one particular plant was chosen over another and some may even be lost in time. With respect to our own family there is no doubt why ours was chosen, as we were fully aware of the process and rationale.

The Carruthers Clan Badge, the Common Gorse (Ulex europeaus), is a large, robust, evergreen shrub, covered in needle-like leaves with distinctive and fragrant bright yellow flowers. It can reach 2.5 meters high, which is much larger that its cousins western gorse (Ulex galli) and dwarf gorse (Ulex minor).  

Although Common Gorse blooms six months of the year from January to June, the others will bloom July to November. Therefore between the different species some gorse is almost always in flower, hence the old country phrase: “When gorse is out of blossom, kissing’s out of fashion”.  

Gorse is a common enough plant throughout Scotland, but its distinct yellow flowers are especially noted brightening up the landscape in the grasslands and moors of Annandale, home to our ancestors. Its dense covering also provides protection, shelter and food for many insects and birds during harsh winters, with its ‘hospitality’ mirroring that of our own family.

Well known in Celtic culture, it has also been used in the past to provide fuel to burn;  as fodder for livestock; was bound to make floor coverings and chimney brushes; and was used as a colourant by our ancestors. 

The plant was chosen and registered with the Lord Lyon by the Chief, Peter Carruthers of Holmains, for a number of reasons which reflected the Carruthers name:

IMG_0354 copy
Arms of the hereditary Chief of Carruthers 
  1. It is prevalent in the ancestral lands of Carruthers.
  2. It was used to corral and feed cattle owned or reived by our ancestors at home and on droves.
  3. It thrives in the harshest of conditions, just as our forebears did.
  4. Burning it kept our ancestors warm on those cold, dark, dreary nights.
  5. Its long, sharp spiked leaves are reminiscent of the ‘lang spears’ or ‘prickers’ famously used by the Border Reivers, as some of the finest light cavalry in Europe in their day.
  6. The stunning colour of the flower reflects the yellow/gold on the arms (shield) of our chiefly line; Carruthers of Holmains.



We are therefore. very lucky to have this plant confirmed as our own being fully aware of the reasons behind it.  It truly represents who and what we are as Carruthers and where we solidly sit in Scottish and regional history.

However, it is not only the clans and families who have them, the country itself carries its own plant, renowned and recognised throughout the world as representing both Scotland and Scots kith and kin.

The ‘Plant Badge’ of Scotland

440px-Cirsium_vulgare_flowerhead_Anstey_Hill.PNGScotland itself, has its own floral emblem, that being the thistle (Onopordum acanthium), according to visitScotland, 5 facts on the subject are listed:

1. Mysterious origins

In truth, no one knows for certain how the purple-flowered thistle rose to such lofty significance. But one legend has it a sleeping party of Scots warriors were saved from ambush by an invading Norse army when one of the enemies trod on the spiky plant.
His anguished cry roused the slumbering warriors who duly vanquished the invader and adopted the thistle as their national symbol.

Of course, there is not a shred of evidence to support this account, but it certainly makes a good story.  However, what is fact is that the ‘Plant Badge’ became known as the Guardian Thistle, and was adopted as the symbol of Scotland along with the motto, “Nemo me impune Laecessit”, (No one provokes me with impunity), which is the Motto of the Order of the Thistle.

2. There’s more than one

Scotland is home to not just one, but several varieties of thistle, some native and others exotic, and no one is quite sure which is the true symbol of Scotland. Is it the Spear or Musk Thistle? Or maybe it’s the poetic-sounding Melancholy Thistle or Our Lady’s Thistle? And what about the Cotton Thistle?

Which could it be? Your guess is as good as ours.

3. It’s inspired poetry

Forget A Red, Red Rose, Rabbie Burns’ ode to romantic love – the thistle is responsible for one of the finest and influential poems in the Scottish literary cannon, Hugh MacDiarmid’s A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle, an epic, stream-of-consciousness poem that touches on everything from the state of the nation and the mysteries of the universe to the wondrous joy that is whisky.

In short, it’s essential reading for anyone planning a trip to Scotland.

4. A badge of honour

The thistle has been an important symbol of Scottish heraldry for over 500 years. It also represents one of the highest honours the country can give an individual. Founded by James III in 1687, the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle is an order of chivalry which is bestowed to those who have made an outstanding contribution to the life of Scotland and the greater United Kingdom. HM The Queen alone invests those in the Order of the Thistle which is second only to the Most Noble Order of the Garter in precedence.

5. It’s everywhere

Thistles aren’t just found in gardens, parks and in the countryside. Keep your eyes peeled and you will see the insignia emblem cropping up all over Scotland, from the strip of the international rugby team and football clubs, to local businesses and major organisations and corporations, to the uniforms of police officers.

Proud to be of Scottish blood, proud to be of Reiver blood, proud to be a Carruthers, then please join us and support the work we do for you,  through our societyMembership

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