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Archive for the ‘Family: Mustard or Crucifer’ Category

I didn’t grow up eating kale, I didn’t even know what kale was until a few years ago.  It’s a very nutritious green and leafy vegetable.  There are a million websites out there calling it a “superfood” because it is packed with anti-oxidants and vitamins.  I like that it has a bit of taste to it and is strong enough to be able to handle some stir-frying in garlic (unlike spinach, which wilts and disappears in the pan).

Today I was in the mood for some kale, so I picked up a bunch at the local Whole Foods.  When I started cutting it up to put in the pan, I found that there were flowers hidden on the inside!

Kale flowers hidden inside

 

What luck!  While waiting for spring to arrive with wild flowers, I got a few flowers by accident at the store!  So I decided to do a little research on kale.  It is, no surprise here, a crucifer with typical 4 petal-ed cross-like flowers  Kale is a type of cabbage, but unlike the cabbage that usually comes to mind, kale’s leaves turn outward instead of forming a head.  It is a member of the Brassica oleracea group, along with broccoli, cauliflower collard greens and brussel sprouts (see wikipedia).  These veggies look so different, it’s amazing they are so closely related!  I looked up pictures of kale and I had no idea that it was used as an ornamental plant – the flowering kales are quite pretty!  The grocery store kale isn’t ornamental but I still enjoyed finding the flowers.

Kale

I decided to see what kale is called in other languages – surprisingly most other languages don’t seem to differentiate between kale and other forms of cabbage (kål and chou mean cabbage, not specifically kale).  It appears that “kale” is related to the word for kale/cabbage in Swedish, “kål”.  This got me wondering… where do we get the word cabbage from, then?  I came across a great site that describes the history of cabbage!  Basically, cabbage used to be called coleworts or colewyrts (a primitive cabbage – what a terrible name!) and it came from a group of plants called coles or caulis (recognize cauliflower? and collards?) which means “stem”.  We get the modern “cabbage” from the French “caboche” which means head (or according to google translate, “noggin”).

Who knew there was so much to learn from the kale in the grocery store!  Kale has made a come back – popular during World War II as a hearty healthy vegetable to grow on your own, kale disappeared until it was recently rediscovered.  Thank you, Whole Foods, it’s hard to find good kale without you!

 

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The area near my apartment in Stockholm got taken over by this yellow crucifer in June.  I loved living near this section of park because such different and beautiful wildflowers took turns over the course of the spring and summer.


Warty Cabbage (Ryssgubbe), Stockholm, Sweden

It was clear at first that this plant was from the mustard/crucifer family because of its four petals like a cross.  After some searching, I’ve decided that it must be Warty Cabbage (bunias orientalis).  In Swedish, the name is ‘Ryssgubbe’ which means, literally, ‘Russian old man’.  I guess Swedes think Russians are warty?  or look yellow with bumpy pods and skinny shiny arms?


Warty Cabbage (Ryssgubbe), Stockholm, Sweden

These plants are medium/tall, hairless, the stems are warty.  The leaves are mostly at the base and the stalks are shiny.  The pods are warty and round (other similar species have longer pods).

Warty Cabbage (Ryssgubbe), Stockholm, Sweden

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I just inherited from my great aunt the book ‘Wild Flowers of Britain and Northern Europe’ by Richard Fitter, Alastair Fitter and Marjorie Blamey.  I wish I had had this book when I was in Sweden!  Now I can go back through my old unidentified photos and hopefully find names for a few more.  Stay tuned for more posts on Swedish flora even though I am back in the U.S.

There was a space near my apartment where wild flowers seemed to take turns.  First the spring beauties blanketed it in blue, then these white mustard plants moved in and took over.  I could tell they were from the mustard family because of the 4 petals like a cross.  I wish I had looked them up at the time so I could see if their leaves really do smell like garlic when crushed.

Garlic Mustard (Löktrav), Stockholm, Sweden

Garlic Mustard (alliaria petiolata) is known as Löktrav in Swedish.  ‘Lök’ means onion and ‘trav’ means ‘trot’ like a horse.  I’m not sure what ‘onion trot’ means!

Garlic Mustard (Löktrav), Stockholm, Sweden

Garlic Mustard is not native to North America, where it is considered an invasive plant.  If you find it growing you can use the flowers and seeds for salads to add a taste of garlic.

Garlic Mustard (Löktrav), Stockholm, Sweden

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Southern Öland’s landscape can be divided into two categories.  There is the Stora Alvaret covering the middle of the island, with a shallow layer of soil over limestone.  Then, on either side of this plain is farm land.  Although developed by humans, I still found the farmers’ fields beautiful.  Some had horses, cows and sheep.  Many had plots of land that stretched to the Baltic that were solid yellow.  At first I thought these fields of yellow were wildflowers that had taken over but it turns out the fields were rapeseed.

Field of Rapeseed (raps), Öland, Sweden

Brassica napus is from the mustard family and is used to make rapeseed oil (rapsolja in Swedish), what we call vegetable oil back home in the states.  Rapeseed can also be used for animal feed and as a biodeisel fuel.

There are two subspecies of ‘raps’ (the Swedish name for this plant) in Sweden that can be distinguished based on the size and shape of the root.  I did not dig any up to find out, though.  The turnip-root is how the plant got its name, ‘napus’ is from the Greek word ‘nape’, which means turnip.  It is Sweden’s most important domestic oil plant, the seeds contain 30-40% oil.

Rapeseed Flower (Raps) Öland, Sweden


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Today’s post features a flower that took me a very long time to identify, and I’m still not sure if I’ve gotten it right!  Sweet Alyssum, also known as Sweet Alison (or, as I thought it was called at first, Sweet Asylum because I read it too quickly), is growing on my block next to a tree stump and some spring beauties.  The Latin name means small seed pod (Lobularia), from the coast or sea (maritima).  This plant is in the Brassicaceae family, also called the mustard or crucifer family.  After searching several websites to try any way I could to find out what it was, I finally came across a website with pictures of wildflowers in bloom (see here) and I thought Sweet Alyssum had to be the name.

Sweet Alyssum (Strandkrassing), Stockholm, Sweden

This flower is native to the mediterrean region – I found a very thorough website from Malta’s http://www.maltawildplants.com, where it blooms all year round.  The Swedish wildflower site says it blooms from June to September, which makes me think I may have gotten this one wrong.  Perhaps it is a close relative?  Because it is very distinctive and doesn’t have relatives that even come close.  In Swedish, this flower is called strandkrassing, which I believe literally means ‘beach anchored singlet’.

Sweet Alyssum (Strandkrassing), Stockholm, Sweden

I feel uncomfortable that I’m posting this without being sure, but perhaps there will be an update if I get any new information.  I saw this flower in late April, not even close to June!  I may have to go out and smell it, because apparently it is distinctively sweet smelling.  Right now it is cold and gray here in Stockholm, making me want to curl up with a book, not hunt down flowers.  Flowering trees are starting to bloom, though, so those are something to look forward to!

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