Share all sharing alternatives for: Kale, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and cabbage space all varieties of a single magical plant species

Kale is cabbage is broccoli is cauliflower. ( Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston globe via Getty Images)
In some circles, kale has come to be really, yes, really popular. Once a little-known speciality crop, that meteoric increase is now the topic of nationwide news segments. Some experts are predicting that kale salads will shortly be on the menus at TGI Friday"s and also McDonald"s.

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Cabbage is a different story. Per capita usage of the peaked method back in the 1920s, when the median American ate 22 pounds of it every year. Nowadays, us eat around eight pounds, many of it disguised together cole slaw or sauerkraut.

This renders it pretty amazing that kale and cabbage — in addition to broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collard greens, and also kohlrabi, and several various other vegetables — all come indigenous the exact same plant species: Brassica oleracea.


How is this possible? About 2500 years ago, B. Oleracea was specifically a wild plant that flourished along the coast of Britain, France, and also countries in the Mediterranean. That wild kind — which still exists and is well-known as wild mustard — looks favor this:


Wild mustard. (MPF/Wikimedia commons)

In old Greece and Rome, people started growing the tree in your gardens. Come maximize the quantity of food they acquired from it, they preferentially planted seed from plants that grew an ext leaves, and also after many generations, this kind of artificial choice produced a leafy version of wild mustard that looked more like modern kale or collard greens.

Later (sometime after ~ the year 1600), farmers selected for variants that the tree that created enlarged leaf buds in particular. After countless generations, this led to plants with substantial heads of strictly rolled pipeline — plants that we would contact cabbage.


Good ol" cabbage. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Elsewhere, farmers selected because that enlarged flowering structures (creating broccoli and cauliflower), enlarged tribe (kohlrabi), many small heads (brussels sprouts). This tho goes on: in 1993, a Japanese seed agency bred broccolini, a hybrid in between broccoli and kai-lan, however another type of this plant species, known as Chinese broccoli.


Broccolini. (eeetthaannn)

Though they"re every the exact same species, this various crops are cultivars — different varieties bred to have actually desirable qualities for human being purposes. Virtually all crops have various cultivars, despite B. Oleracea are especially varied in appearance and also taste (some speculate this is because the plant flourished over a vast geographic area come start, so over there was more genetic diversity for farmers to tap in to as soon as selectively breeding).

But B. Oleracea is conventional in that its tamed forms are much different-looking and an ext readily edible 보다 its wild form. Wild apples, because that instance, room crab apples, and the wild precursor to corn to be a hardened grass with simply a few kernels. This additionally happens with domesticated animals: we pick out the qualities we prize, even if it is it"s the capacity to produce lots that milk (dairy cows) or friendliness and loyalty (dogs).

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All this speaks to one thing: the remarkable power of person breeding and artificial selection. Changes that would take thousands of years or much more to take place via natural an option can take place in hundreds when civilization are in ~ the controls.

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