Brassicas That Come From The Same Plant: Broccoli, Cauliflower, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Collard Greens, Kale, Kohlrabi

By | February 23, 2021

test article image
Woman holding seed tray of black kale plant seedlings. (Geography Photos/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

You may have heard that corn was transformed by the farmers of southern Mexico from a grass-like plant into the hearty and substantial grain that it is today, but it has nothing on the Brassica oleracea plant. Ancient farmers bred half a dozen of the leafy greens we depend on to keep our doctors off our backs today by tinkering with this one common European plant.

Brassica Oleracea

Thousands of years ago, different farmers in different regions selectively bred Brassica oleracea, which is actually a type of wild mustard that grows around the northern Mediterranean area, in different ways. Some selected for different kinds of leaves to create what we call kale, Chinese broccoli, and collard greens. Others focused their genetic modifications on the plant's terminal buds to produce cabbage, florets to produce cauliflower and broccoli, or stems to produce kohlrabi. Even just by tweaking the axillary buds, Brussels sprouts were born. These plants may look vastly different from each other, but they're so closely related that they can mate with each other. In humans, that's usually a bad thing, but on a species level, too much difference usually means infertile offspring.

test article image
Curly kale (Boerenkool). (Rasbak/Wikimedia Commons)

The Timeline Of Kale

While botanists don't have a complete understanding of the history of Brassica oleracea, its domestication, or its evolution into different vegetables, we do know that humans began toying with the plant's genetics before the time of Ancient Greece. Greek physician Theophrastus, who lived between 371 and 287 B.C.E., wrote in his book Enquiry Into Plants that farmers had already begun to grow three varieties of the plant, including collard greens and kale.