Thursday, May 10, 2012

Crazy Plants: Wild Cabbage

Wild cabbage (Brassica oleracea, also Brassica oleracea var. oleracea) in bloom
Wild cabbage is a rather unassuming plant, but you probably are quite familiar with a number of its cultivars. Cultivars are domesticated plants that have been selected for specific characteristics. Most often, the differences between the cultivars of a certain species are fairly minor. This can be seen in the apple, which has quite a list of cultivars that vary in taste, color, size and texture but still remain very obviously an apple. This is not true of the wild cabbage. The species has been selected for emphasis on a wide variety of different traits. This is why the cultivars have ended up looking so different from each other.

Selection for large leaves
 B. oleracea var. acephala
Kale. This cultivar varies in color and also includes spring and collard greens, such as the plant shown. Leaf growth spreads outward rather than balling up as in cabbage. There are even decorative forms.
B. oleracea var. capitata
Cabbage. This cultivar varies in color and leaf texture, but always has this tight central ball

Selection for many flowers
B. oleracea var. italica
Broccoli. Though it may not look like it, those tiny green specks that make up a head of broccoli are flowers
 B. oleracea var. botrytis

Cauliflower, also made of many tiny flowers. Color of these flowers varies

Selection for emphasized lateral stem buds
 B. oleracea var. gemmifera
Brussels sprouts. The plant stalk holds many tiny cabbages that form perpendicular to the stem

Selection for a swollen stem
B. oleracea var. gongylodes
Kohlrabi, also called German turnip is not as commonly known. It also varies in color
Other cultivars: B. oleracea var. alboglabra (Chinese broccoli), costata (tronchuda cabbage), medullosa (marrow-stem kale), palmifolia (palm cabbage), sabauda (Savoy cabbage), sabellica (curly kale), others.

Sources are The Nerdy Gardener, Plants for a Future, Carleton College, Carleton College again, GeoChemBio, University of Florida, and Evolutionary Analysis. Images are from Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons licenses: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven.

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