Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Quiz: What Makes These Plants So Special?

` I was just thinking to myself... what's my favorite question about plants? I don't know that much about them, but their weirdness in growth patterns and evolution intrigues me. Here's a really simple and fun question (though notice I didn't say it was necessarily easy).

` What is the most basic and important thing that unites these vegetables: Kale, cabbage, broccoli, kohlrabi (Hungarian turnip) cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts?

` Hint: It's not their high nutritional levels, nor the fact that they are cool-weather crops.

` The answer is...

` (That elipsis was meant to ensure some amount of suspense.)

` They belong to just one species; Brassica oleracea.

` It is best described in its wild state as a kind of fleshy-leafed, kale-like, 'mustard family' plant. The reason why different varieties of B. oleracea look so different because, as they were brought over from the East, they mutated in interesting ways and were bred over the millennia for different parts to be eaten:
` The varieties of broccoli and cauliflower were selected for big flower-heads (with cauliflower having to be 'blanched' by tying the leaves over the flowers); kale was bred for leaves; kohlrabi, for huge stems; cabbages were bred for the largest terminal buds; and Brussels sprouts have a lot of lateral buds, which is why they resemble small cabbages-on-a-stem.

This has been a public service announcement!

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