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No. 275 October 24, 2001
aceska at victoria.tc.ca Victoria, B.C.
Dr. A. Ceska, P.O.Box 8546, Victoria, B.C. Canada V8W 3S2
THE FIVE BRETHREN OF THE ROSE: AN OLD BOTANICAL RIDDLE
This posting is an abbreviated copy of the following article:
Stearn, W.T. 1965. The five brethren of the rose: an old botani-
cal riddle. Huntia 2: 180-184.
It is posted in BEN with the kind permission of the Hunt In-
stitute for Botanical Documentation, A Research Division of
Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The ar-
ticle should not be copied or distributed outside this BEN
William T. Stearn was 90 years old when he died on May 9, 2001.
Although he was self-taught, he published 470 scientific publi-
cations and is best known for his seminal work _Botanical
Latin_, the indispensable aid to descriptive botanical taxonomy.
For his obituary see:
I hope that you will enjoy his writing, even if it challenges
your knowledge of Latin. - Adolf Ceska
Here it is:
_Quinque sumus fratres, et eodem tempore nati,
Sunt duo barbati, duo sunt barba absque creati.
Unus et e quinque non est barbatus utrinque._
On a summer's day, in sultry weather,
Five brethren were born together.
Two had beards and two had none,
And the other had but half a one.
So run two versions of an old riddle. I first heard it many
years ago from the late Edward Augustus Bowles (1865-1954), who
had it, I believe, from Canon Henry Nicholson Ellacombe (1822-
1916), who probably learned it from his father the Rev. Henry
Thomas Ellacombe (1790-1885). In this way from person to person,
rather than from book to book, it has been passed on for cen-
turies, going back to Middle Ages, before the invention of
printing. To find it in print requires, indeed, considerable
search, and the versions found differ much in wording, which
points to long transmission by word of mouth. Who or what are
these strange brothers, all born at the same time of the same
mother, two bearded, two beardless, and one with only half a
The five brothers are, in short, the five sepals of _Rosa
canina_ and the other dog roses. Two of the five are completely
outside the others and have appendages or beard along both
edges; two with plain unappendaged edges are completely over-
lapped along the edges by other sepals; the fifth has one edge
appendaged and outside, its other edge plain and inside, in
other words it has only half a beard.
Roses were favourite flowers in monastic gardens and it is a
fair supposition that the riddle was invented in a medieval
abbey in Germany, but no-one knows where, when, or by whom. W.
Rytz in _Gesnerus_ 14: 76(1957) attributes it to Albertus Magnus
(1193-1280) of Regensburg. Ellacombe in _Cornhill magazine_
(July 1905) wrote that the earliest version he had traced was
quoted by Fumarellus (Antonio Fumanelli?) in 1557. However J.C.
Rosenberg, _Rhodologia seu philosophico-medica generosae rosae
descriptio_ (1628) does not quote it, although he describes the
rose-bud (p. 188) in words which suggest it: "_Alabastri sunt
calycis partes laciniosae ... quae quidem quinque sunt ut
plurimum; duae nimirum barbatulae; duae imberbes; & quinta
partim barbata, partim imberbis._"
Johann Herrmann (1738-1800) of Strasbourg in his _Dissertatio
inauguralis botanico-medica de Rosa_ p. 12 (1792) describes the
calyx of _Rosa canina_ in a similar manner: "_Calycis foliola in
longum apicem producta, duobus utrinque, uno ab alterutro tantum
latere pinnatis, duobus integris._" He then adds --
_Vetus hinc etiam aenigma ortum traxit:
Quinque sunt fratres,
Duo sunt barbati,
Sine barba sunt duo nati,
Unus ex his quinque
Non habet barbam utrinque._
Scarcely different is the version quoted in Wilhelm Troll's
_Praktische Einfuehrung in die Pflanzenmorphologie_ 2: 13
_Quinque sunt fratres.
Duo sunt barbati,
Duo sine barba nati.
Unus a quinque
Non habet barba utrinque._
There is also the version published by Adrian Hardy Haworth
(1767-1833) in his _Miscellanea naturalia_ p. 197. footnote
(1803) and by W. Rytz in _Gesnerus_ (_loc.cit._):
_Quinque sumus fratres, sub eodem tempore nati,
Bini sunt barbati, bini sine crine creati,
Quintus habet barbam, sed tantum dimidiatam._
That light-hearted scholar E.A. Bowles, when expounding the
relation of aestivation and phyllotaxy in his _My garden in
summer_, p. 54 (1914), gives a version different from the four
_Quinque sumus fratres, unus barbatus et alter,
Imberbesque duo, sum semiberbis ego._
This version is also quoted in Troll's _Praktische Einfuehrung_
2: 13 (1957).
There is equal choice of English translations, almost all of
them made in the nineteenth century. A version attributed to the
now almost forgotten poet James Montgomery (1771-1851) renders
it as follows:
Five brethren there are
born at once of their mother,
Two bearded, two bare,
The fifth neither one nor the other
But to each of his brethren half brother.
The Rev. Kirby Trimmer (1804-1887), author of the _Flora of
Norfolk_, claimed in _Notes and Quotes_, VI 4: 74 (July 1881)
the following version printed there as being his composition:
Of the five brothers at the same time born
Two from our birthday ever beards have worn
On other two none ever has appeared
While the fifth brother wears but half a beard
Another, quoted by C.W. Bingham (_loc. cit._: June 1881) from
_Evening hours_ 1: 208 (1871), runs as follows:
Five brothers all equal in age,
Two bearded and equally wise,
Two beardless and equally sage,
One bearded though one half in size.
Ellacombe (1905) has a different one:
Five brothers we, all in one moment reared;
Two of us bearded, two without a beard;
Our fifth on one cheek only wears the beard.
Another attributed by Bingham simply to "a learned Cambridge
professor" and by A.W. Hill (_Henry Nicholson Ellacombe_, p.
299: 1919) to Prof. Edward Byles Cowell (1826-1903), professor
of Sanskrit in the University of Cambridge, is as follows:
Five brethren of one birth are we
All in a little family
Two have beards, and two have none
And only half a beard has one.
Stearn's article continues with two German versions of this
riddle and with a short technical discussion about phyllotaxy
(=positioning of leaves on stem) of the dog rose sepals.
Before you run out to buy a rose for your beloved (in order to
investigate its sepals), here is yet another version that my
friend discovered in _The Countryman_ (April 28-June 15, 2000
We are five brothers at the same time born,
Two of us have beards; by two no beards are worn,
While one, lest he should give his brothers pain,
Hath one side bearded and the other plain.
BOOK REVIEW: A DICTIONARY OF PLANT PATHOLOGY
From: Brenda Callan [bcallan at pfc.forestry.ca]
Holliday, P. 1998, 2001. A dictionary of plant pathology. 2nd
ed. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. xxiv+536 p. ISBN
0-521-59453-7 [hardcover] 1998 - US$120.00 ISBN 0-521-59458-8
[softcover] 2001 - corrected ed. - US$44.95
Cambridge University Press
The Edinburgh Bldg., Cambridge CB2 2RU, United Kingdom
40 West 20th Street, New York, NY 10011-4211, USA
This reference is welcome addition to a plant pathologist's
reference shelf. It is a carefully updated and improved version
of the first edition (published in 1989). Lengthened by over 150
pages, it contains over 11,000 subject entries. The dictionary
is especially useful as a starting point for literature
searches, and for linking common names of pathogens to Latin
binomials. As pointed out by the author, the masses of
electronically abstracted literature now available at our fin-
gertips can make it extremely time-consuming to locate key
review papers on unfamiliar topics - we could use more
references such as this one to give us a head start. Government
agents involved with quarantine regulations and enforcement will
certainly appreciate the Dictionary's global coverage of plant
diseases, both temperate and tropical. A few specific comments
that reflect the bias of this reviewer: the names of _Hypoxylon
mammatum_ (_Entoleuca mammata_) and _H. atropunctatum_
(_Biscogniauxia atropunctata_) have not been updated, although
the current monograph of _Hypoxylon_ by Ju and Rogers (1996) is
cited. On a more positive note, the _Armillaria_ section has
been thoroughly updated, which will be appreciated by forest
pathologists. Fungi are still defined in a broad sense (e.g.,
Oomycetes are still included), but brief discussions of current
taxonomic concepts in fungi are given so as to avoid confusion.
The paperback edition is nicely bound so that it lies flat on
the desk or lab bench when open.
EPIPHYTES AND FOREST MANAGEMENT - NEW WEB SITE
From: Bruce McCune [mccuneb at bcc.orst.edu]
I have established a new web site called "Epiphytes and Forest
We have learned a lot in the last ten years about how forest
management practices are likely to affect lichens in the Pacific
Northwest of North America. The purpose of this web site is to
help communicate those findings in a question-and-answer format.
Although the web site is targeted toward botanists and forest
managers in the Pacific Northwest, and draws primarily on the
literature from North America, the questions (and perhaps some
of the answers) are universal among forested areas of the world:
Which epiphytic lichen species are rare?
Which species depend on old forests?
Which species depend on riparian areas?
Can we accelerate the development of old-growth associates
in young forests by thinning or other management techniques?
Do remnant trees promote maintenance of old-growth as-
Should remnant trees be left clumped or dispersed to favor
species at risk?
How can we recognize hotspots of lichen diversity and abun-
What should we do to protect known populations?
A glossary and bibliography are included. Comments, corrections,
and suggestions are welcome (mccuneb at bcc.orst.edu).
Oregon State University
Corvallis, Oregon, USA
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