Friday, November 7, 2008

Brassica names - perennial biennial, oh what the h*ll

Sorry for the vulgarity but when searching perennial kales, I sometimes feel a headache coming on. In order to sort through the names and mystery, I went on a search and came up with some though, by no means, all the answers. All knowledgeable readers are encouraged to share their expertise on this subject.

The Intro - useful for seed savers*


Let's start with the basics. Brassicacea is a large family including ornamentals such as sweet Iberis, and honesty plant (lunaria) and weeds such as hedge mustard and pepper grass. It also includes many common garden vegetables such as broccoli, and turnips.

The brassica genus -

interjection: The cross-language snob talk plant is like this 'Genus species'

- seems to highly represented in the safe and tasty category of plants across many different species. Plants that are in the species can cross pollinate one another creating weird (and sometimes wonderful) hybrids. However, the general rule is that those are different species, even though they have the same genus, will not cross (rules were made to be broken ;-).
These veggies fall under the following Genus species names - by no means a complete list:

Brassica oleracea: cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, 9 star broccoli, sprouting broccoli, chinese kale, broccolini, white flowering broccoli, marrow stem kale, jersey kale, walking stick kale, palm leafed kale, perpetual kale, curly kale, brussel sprouts, European kale, collards, kholrabi and wild cabbage.

I am sparing you the variety name as they are quite complicated but, for examle, brassica oleracea var. botrytis is cauliflower versus Brassica oleracea var. albogladbra for white flowering broccoli. As these are all members of the same genus and species, they can all cross with each other. For more information, go to Sorting Brassica oleracea names.

Brassica napus include Siberian kale, hanover salad, rutabaga, rape and canola.

Brassica rapa (synonym campestris) include turnip, seven top, italian kale, mustard greens (some forms are in Brassica juncea), rapini (some forms are in brassica oleracea), broccoli rabe, chinese cabbages, bok choy types, tat soi type greens, holland greens, and mizuna.

Brassica juncea: Indian mustard greens

Presumedly as mustards in the Brassica juncea and Brassica rapa are different species, they will not generally cross with one another so you could save one of each type in your garden assuming that both can flower at the same time and yet still come true from seed.

Other edible Brassicacea include:

Eruca sativa: rocket / arugula - sylvetta can be perennial
Barbarea verna: land cress
Raphanus sativus: common radish
Armoracia rusticana: horseradish - perennial
Crambe maritima: sea kale - perennial

Possible perennial brassicas

9 Star Perennial Broccoli
I have never grown any so called perennial brassicas but I have heard of them. Representing the edible flower head form of brassica, commonly known as broccoli/cauliflower is 9 Star Broccoli. I understand that it is only perennial as long as you prevent it from going to seed. In plant terms this is sometimes known as monocarpic. Even then, I hear that it only lives for about 2-3 years. It has loose, white heads which look to me like cauliflower. I don't know if it could overwinter in Ottawa but heck if my mother living in Paradise... I mean, BC gets some seeds, I'm going to give it a try.
Source: Seeds of Victoria, Thompson-Morgan

Sea Kale
For blanched shoots, you can try Crambe Martima or Sea Kale. It is a true, long lived perennial with white, wavy silvery leaves and typical sprays of brassica flowers after 4 years or so. It is mentioned in an old time book on Ottawa Gardening so I know that at least one variety is hardy around here.
Source: 'Lily White': La Societe des plantes, Bountiful Gardens

Perennial Kale
A perennial leaf verison of brassicas was by far the hardest to track down. I got my first lead at the Plants for a Future website, which uses the latin Brassica oleracea ramosa (or branched kale?) that details useful perennial plants. They listed three cultivars Ragged Jack, Thousand Headed Kale and Daubenton. The first is a bit mysterious because it is a synonym for Red Russian Kale which as far as I know is generally a biennial unless this is some other purple, wavey leafed cultivar of perennial kale rather than the usual 'ragged jack'.

Thousand Headed Kale is, according to one supplier, a fodder kale. My search has lead me to believe that it is a) not that winter hardy or b) in mild areas can live for years? One growing source called it 'hunger gap kale' which is promising and it seems to be grown for its flowering shoots produced early in the year hence the 'thousand headed' name. Pentland Brig is a plant produced by crossing Thousand Headed Kale but I have no idea of its perennial status, however, this website, suggests that it shows promise.
Source: B&T seeds, The Organic Gardening Catalogue (pentland brig), Country Plan, Bountiful Gardens (penland brig)

Lastly, I tried hunting down the most infamous of these three: Daubenton Kale. It is oft' quoted that it can be propogated by cuttings and I gather that it roots where it touches the ground? At any rate, putting Daubenton Kale in a search engine yields primarily results about trying to hunt down this cultivar... not very helpful until I ran across a mention of its French name. Chou d'Aubenton or simply Chou Daubenton. So I figured I'd use mediocre french skills for second time this month (read my recent discovery of La Societe des Plantes) and do a biligue search et voila! I found a source!! It sold seed for two varieties!! The first is simply named Chou Daubenton and says that indeed it is vivace (perennial) with the latin name Brassica oleracea and the second is Chou Daubenton panache or Brassica oleracea varigata. However, it does not seem like they ship them to Canada. Sigh.
Source: Plantes aromatiques (may only ship in Europe)

Tree Collards

This is another leaf vegetable version of the brassica known most commonly as walking stick kale or brassica oleracea palmifolia (though some claim this is not the same plant but that tree collards refers to brassica oleracea ramosa or even Brassica oleracea viridis, another kind of fodder kale) because it grows to a very tall height with a tuft of leaves at the top. The stem is dried to harden into a strong, light weight walking stick. I am not sure if this is a true perennial or simply that it can live on more than 2 years if it doesn't flower. In other words, I'm not sure if it is monocarpic like 9 star broccoli. It does look very impresive in flower though.

Source: Thompson & Morgan

How brassicas behave / flowering

My experience with brassicas is that if you cut off the flowering head (cabbage head, broccoli or rapini spears) then the plant will reform new heads. In cabbages this takes a bit longer but eventually you'll get several smaller cabbage heads reforming where the original was cut. If flowering does not happen then the plant, at least in my garden, has a good chance of making it to the next year assuming the root system survives and with reliable snow cover this often happens. I've had curly kale, and red rock mammoth live for more than 2 years in my garden. Anyhow my suspicion is that brassicas can be kept 'young' by preventing the barring of young at least for awhile.

* Seed Savers: You may be wondering how many brassicas you need of each variety to save seed. Well, that answer depends on what plant you are trying to save and who you talk to. I have heard as few as 6 plants quoted but generally for the highly bred brassicas (read cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts), it's more in the range of 50-200 (to quote off the top of my head - my copy of Seed to Seed has gone walkabout at the moment). As for the wilder cousins (like kale), I've heard as low as 20 to maintain vigour. Of course, in order to save seed from a brassica that flowers only in its second (or later) year, the plants will either have to overwinter or be stored and replanted.

** This will be an updated post as information on, or seed sources of perennial of long lived brassicas become available. If you grow any of the above varieties and have a blog post on them, I'd really love to include a link!


Patrick said...

I was talking with Lieven who breeds brassicas the other day about perennial broccoli. He said in fact the genes for being perennial are always there, it's only a matter of if and how they express themselves. I suspect it's similar for other brassicas.

In fact I think there are different forms of perennial, for example winter hardiness or how many years it's really reasonable to expect the plant will live in a given climate.

Lieven mentioned many ordinary broccolis can go on for an extra year or two if you leave them in your garden.

You're probably just trying to make a somewhat complex set of variables very black and white.

Are we allowed to say black and white anymore? Judging from the Day One/Soapbox discussion on the HG forum, this seems to be in doubt these days...

Ottawa Gardener said...

Indeed there are many perennial progenators in the brassica family and I have no doubt the genes are lurking within those leaves. I guess really we should try to distinguish 'short lived perennial' from monocarpic. My understanding was that perennial broccoli was monocarpic - ie., 9 star broccoli, however, I would love to hear about another form. Sometimes, I know that the sprouting broccolis will live more than 2 years. Certainly kales and cabbages do, on occasion, in my garden. I guess it might be true of all brassicas? Thanks Patrick!

Oh and I don't know if you are allowed to invoke the B&G metaphor anymore. How about use of the term 'simple dichotomy'- sounds safe no? I would never want to be making a purely binary argument, in fact I want to tease apart these complexities for my own psuedo clarity and for others ;-)

I would love to talk with Lieven more about that.

leigh said...

Interesting info. You might be interested in the kales at Peter's Seed Research . This breeder has been doing some super work over the years - I'm an unabashed fan. In the past he has had other varieties than are listed there now, hopefully, they will be offered again. We have roughly 2 types naturalised in the gardens that originated with his Siberians and Russian Reds about ten years ago.

Barbarapc said...

So much of what we grow from elsewhere is just a big fat experiment. I've had T&M flower seeds that were supposed to be Zone 9 - be absolutely perennial in my 5B garden, and other perennials that were supposed to be hardy, just poop out. However, when I read that something is perennial in your Ottawa garden - I'm going to really believe that it is.

Ottawa Gardener said...

By that I meant B&W (where is my brain).


At any rate, I ran across Peter's Seed Research when 'researching' this subject and noted that people listed seed that wasn't sold anymore. I wonder if it didn't perform very well? I am going to try and naturalize some kales and mustards next year in the garden. We'll see how they do.


I was reading (again) Vegetable Varieties of Canada (for me a very exciting read) under the entry of kale and they say that they occasionally become woody perennials in the tropics? This might validate some reports of seeing very kale plants some places. In fact these ideas are so interesting, I might have to write another post on it!


I promise to report back on my 'findings' when I have some. As for hardiness zones, I hear ya! I am American zone 4 / Canada zone 5a and fennel never overwinters for me even though it should be borderline hardy for me. However, many other plants with hardinesses of zone 6 do fine. Another post is in that, I think.

Go figure.

jte said...

I don't know if they'll ship to N. America, but 'Daubenton' perennial kale is listed in the 2010/2011 Agroforestry Research Trust catalog: and for the PDF catalog directly.

jte said...

Alas, I just got word back from the Agroforestry folks in the UK and they do not ship outside of Europe.

Ottawa Gardener said...

Yes, sometimes the borders are pesky!

Ottawa Gardener said...

Thanks for updating me though.