Brassicaceae, The Brassica/Mustard Family

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The brassica family, also known as the mustard or cruciferous family, is an economically important group of dicotyledonous plants that probably makes up a part of your everyday diet.

Family members are generally small herbaceous plants but there are some shrubby varieties and even a few vines as well.

Description

Bisexual, radially symmetrical flowers are often bright yellow, though they’re sometimes light yellow, purple, or white. They're usually arranged in a racemous inflorescence, with a few species that have individual separate flowers.

Pollinated flowers become seed pods that vary greatly in size and shape between species.

Stalks with flowers and seed pods have a distinctive look that, along with the flower anatomy, can make many family members relatively easy to spot. 

Flowers, buds and seed pods on a garlic mustard  Alliaria petiolata .    Image source

Flowers, buds and seed pods on a garlic mustard Alliaria petiolata. Image source

Flowers, Fruits & Leaves

Sepals: 4 sepals.

Petals: 4 petals.

Male: 4 tall stamens, 2 short.

Female: 1 pistil

Fruit: Seed pods (called siliques) are situated around the stem radially. Though they come in all shapes and sizes, they generally all split to drop the seeds.

Seeds: Usually tiny and round.

Leaves: Simple alternate leaves with or without a petiole. 

Noteworthy Types

Wild mustard Brassica oleracea is a single species that is responsible for a range of cultivars including kale, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, cabbage and many others. Roman broccoli is such a cultivar that has tightly bundled inflorescences that make a very interesting fractal spiral effect.

Wild mustard  Brassica oleracea  is the plant that humans bred into a wide range of brassica vegetables that we all (hopefully) eat on the regular.    Image source

Wild mustard Brassica oleracea is the plant that humans bred into a wide range of brassica vegetables that we all (hopefully) eat on the regular. Image source

Broccoli sprouting,  Brassica oleracea var. italica .    Image source

Broccoli sprouting, Brassica oleracea var. italica. Image source

Romaine cauliflower with its incredible fractal spirals,  Brassica oleracea  'Romanesco'.    Image source

Romaine cauliflower with its incredible fractal spirals, Brassica oleracea 'Romanesco'. Image source

The Brassica genus is home to other culinary favourites such as various forms of mustard, turnips and canola.

Canola fields  Brassica napus .    Image source

Canola fields Brassica napus. Image source

There are countless species of colonising weeds in the family that can collectively be called "mustard weeds". These are edible and tend to have a spicy wasabi-like spicy kick that lingers for minutes, especially older leaves.

An unknown mustard weed with prickly leaves, but still delicious. Image via Plants Grow Here.

An unknown mustard weed with prickly leaves, but still delicious. Image via Plants Grow Here.

Conclusion

Members of this family are safe to eat and generally have a distinctive broccoli taste, sometimes with a side of mustard heat which can be almost unbearable in some species.

If you haven’t already read my articles on plant identification and scientific names, I recommend reading those to get a broader picture of the topic. Alternatively, you can browse some of my other plant families, subfamilies and genera below.

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