WootBot


quality posts: 14 Private Messages WootBot

Staff

Spring is turning to summer here in the Northern Hemisphere, and the world is in blossom. Flowers always make me think of Chairman Mao, who once vowed to “let a hundred flowers bloom” in China, meaning that the nation would be healthier if a diversity of ideas could compete for attention. But in real life, sometimes the wrong flowers win the war of ideas, leading us up a primrose path of misconceptions and misinformation. This month, Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings digs up all kinds of floral falsehoods from the fertile soil of his mind, separating the weeds of legend from the pick-me-up bouquet… of truth.

Flower Myth #4: Every Rose Has Its Thorn.

I hate to second-guess the musical genius of Poison, especially since astronomers have proven that every night has its dawn, and I have to assume that every cowboy sings a sad, sad song at least occasionally. But, surprisingly, rose plants don’t have thorns—botanically speaking, that is.

In technical terms, a thorn isn’t just any pointy part of a plant: it must be a specially adapted stem or branch, like the sharp tips of a hawthorn shrub. Spines are modified leaves, like the pointy things that cover cacti. What roses (and blackberries and many other common plants) have instead are called prickles—specially modified hairs. Prickles, unlike thorns and spines, don’t contain vascular tissue. All three structures probably evolved for the same purpose—a defense mechanism against hungry herbivores—but they have very different morphologies.

Thorns aren’t the only case where popular and botanical definitions of the same word can be very different. For example: have you ever pulled the petals off a daisy? No you haven’t! Petals are parts of a single flower’s corolla, but the head of a daisy is technically made up of lots of individual flowers: the “disk flowers” in the center surrounded by “ray flowers” around the outside. No petals anywhere—each of the white things is its own flower. I guess what I’m saying is that botanists are a huge bunch of killjoys and if the guys from Poison ever run into them in a dark alley sometime, there’s gonna be trouble.

Quick Quiz: What island are you visiting if the local alphabet still includes the thorn, an old runic letter for the “th” sound?

Ken Jennings is the author of Brainiac, Ken Jennings's Trivia Almanac, and Maphead. He's also the proud owner of an underwhelming Bag o' Crap. Follow him at ken-jennings.com or on Twitter as @KenJennings.

Photo by Flickr user DBduo Photography. Used under a Creative Commons License.

lonelypond


quality posts: 408 Private Messages lonelypond

Roses have prickles doesn't have quite the same ring, but noted.

Moueska


quality posts: 54 Private Messages Moueska

From having worked in a flower shop, I can say only this - the biggest roses have the biggest thorns.

Sweetheart roses that are small and subtle, and will stick in your finger like a splinter.

Thornless rose stems do/can exist, but I don't know that they're really worth the effort if you have enough workers de-thorning roses in your shop. We sure had enough in ours.

They will always be thorns to me. But added to my random trivia, I suppose.

tedgellar


quality posts: 1 Private Messages tedgellar

Iceland!

3mikey1


quality posts: 0 Private Messages 3mikey1

I'm gonna say that I know English originally had such a symbol, and the y in signage such as "ye olde" was a morphing of that symbol representing "th" so I'm gonna say England.

Ruger9mm


quality posts: 2 Private Messages Ruger9mm

Thanks to wikipedia: The Icelandic alphabet is notable for its retention of two old letters which no longer exist in the English alphabet: Þ,þ (þorn, anglicised as "thorn") and Ð,ð (eð, anglicised as "eth" or "edh"), representing the voiceless and voiced "th" sounds (as in English thin and this), respectively.

akasamischu


quality posts: 0 Private Messages akasamischu

uh. thanks - now that dumb song will be stuck in my head all day.

fightingpillow


quality posts: 5 Private Messages fightingpillow

For those of us that aren't botanists, a prickle is a thorn.

tedgellar


quality posts: 1 Private Messages tedgellar
Ruger9mm wrote:Thanks to wikipedia: The Icelandic alphabet is notable for its retention of two old letters which no longer exist in the English alphabet: Þ,þ (þorn, anglicised as "thorn") and Ð,ð (eð, anglicised as "eth" or "edh"), representing the voiceless and voiced "th" sounds (as in English thin and this), respectively.



Yep! Though note that in Old English, thorn and eth both could represent both the voiced and unvoiced dental affricates (thin and this).

PocketBrain


quality posts: 44 Private Messages PocketBrain

Mkay, so prickles.

jcolag


quality posts: 8 Private Messages jcolag

Can we go back to the part about prickles being hair...?

dbcooper


quality posts: 16 Private Messages dbcooper

Me so thorny.

<life>...insert something interesting here...</life>

rain22kat


quality posts: 0 Private Messages rain22kat

Okay....so I will now change my declaration about my thornless rosebush to "prickless" rose bush!!

GeneralAnubis


quality posts: 0 Private Messages GeneralAnubis
Ruger9mm wrote:Thanks to wikipedia: The Icelandic alphabet is notable for its retention of two old letters which no longer exist in the English alphabet: Þ,þ (þorn, anglicised as "thorn") and Ð,ð (eð, anglicised as "eth" or "edh"), representing the voiceless and voiced "th" sounds (as in English thin and this), respectively.



Lol, you said "þorn"

tslothrop


quality posts: 12 Private Messages tslothrop
3mikey1 wrote:I'm gonna say that I know English originally had such a symbol, and the y in signage such as "ye olde" was a morphing of that symbol representing "th" so I'm gonna say England.



And the 'e' in Olde and the 'pe' in Shoppe were simply there for justification, in lieu of spaces - optional and up to the printer.

katek8


quality posts: 0 Private Messages katek8

Iceland!

bacalum


quality posts: 4 Private Messages bacalum

Ken,

Nice write up! Now that you're becoming botanically savvy, will you remember that the red things on poinsettias are bracts, not leaves?

Also, it's heartening to see so many Wooters address the bit you omitted, i.e. the vestigial "ye" that most Americans mispronounce.

When rich or powerful people propose a change, it is designed to make them richer or more powerful.

whoiskenjennings


quality posts: 7 Private Messages whoiskenjennings

Guest Blogger

Yes, the correct answer is Iceland.
Well done þorn stars. Your prize is a rare 7-inch of "Unskinny Bop" by Poison, now in the mail.