You're welcome.
The Pagan Porch - a forum for Pagan Homesteaders and their friends

This board is now closed and read only. No new membership can be gained. Thank you for your interest.       Sign up (learn about it) | Sign in (lost password?)

TexasMadness Profile
Live feed
Miscellaneous info

Global user

Registered: 03-2007
Location: Austin, Texas
Posts: 3972
Reply | Quote
Vegetable Gardening 101: 3. Types of Vegetables

Vegetables, Cultivars and Varieties

I think it’s important to know how plants are related. It helps me imagine how each individual came to being and makes the plants and vegetables real living creatures. Understanding the world around me is a big part of my path in life.

Let’s start with a little botany. Individual plants are distinguished in the scientific world by their ‘botanical name’. This is to a name that is regulated by a governing body and creates uniformity across regions and even countries. This is very important. For instance, what I call a ‘buttercup’ is a native flower here in Texas with a big pink flower. It’s not even closely related to the small yellow flowers most of the rest of the US calls a ‘buttercup’. Thus the botanical name is important as it does not change based on the whims of the people who have named them.

However, things get complicated when you throw human cultivation into the mix. From now on, I will only be speaking of cultivated plants, which use a slightly different code than wild plants.

Botanical names are commonly one, two or three part names. If it’s a one part name, it refers to a family or genus of plants. If it’s two parts, it refers to a species. If it’s three parts, it refers to a cultivar.

--Log in or sign up to see linked image content--


Most of the vegetables we (Westerners) eat fall into one of 8 families:

Brassicaceae (Cabbage Family, Brassicas or cruciferous vegetables): almost too many to list, here are some good examples - cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, turnip, rapeseed, mustard, radish, horseradish, cress, wasabi, watercress, and arugula, etc.

 Apiaceae or Umbelliferae (Carrot Family): anise, caraway, carrot, celery, coriander/cilantro, cumin, dill, fennel, parsley, parsnip

Betoideae subfamily of Amaranthaceae (formerly called the Chenopodiaceae family – I only discovered this was no longer officially a family of its own while researching for this post!) (Beet Family): spinach, beets, chard, quinoa, and sugar beets

Compositae (Sunflower Family): sunflowers, artichokes, chicory, lettuce (lots of common garden flowers too!)

Leguminosae (Legume, pea or bean family): legumes, peas and beans! Also peanuts, carob and licorice. (and the dreaded kudzu for those that live in the American South)

Solanaceae (Tomato family): tomato, potato, eggplant, pepper, tomatillo, and tobacco

Cucurbitaceae (Squash Family): squash, melons, guards, cucumbers, watermelons, pumpkins

Allioideae subfamily of Amaryllidaceae (Allium or Onion family – again, this used to be a separate family called Alliaceae until 2009!) onions, shallots, garlic, leeks

Outliers: asparagus, sweet potato



Most vegetable names we use refer to a specific species (but not all!). Let’s dissect the Tomato Family for an example. They are all in the family Solanaceae, so it’s like they are all cousins. But each one of the vegetables listed above is a different species, so they have a unique two-part name:

Tomato: Solanum lycopersicum
Potato: Solanum tuberosum
Eggplant: Solanum melongena

All of the above are in the same genus – it’s like they are brothers and sisters. Strange to think an eggplant is so closely related to a potato!

But as I said, not all “vegetables” are a single species. Take “pepper” for example. That describes a whole genus – a grouping of species. It can be further broken down like this:

Bell Pepper: Capsicum annuum
Habanero pepper: Capsicum chinense

And looking back at the names of tomato, potato and eggplant, you can see these are cousins to the peppers – same family ( Solanaceae), different genera – the plural of genus (Solanum and Capsicum).


Cultivars are delineation below that of an individual species. For instance, dogs, wolves, coyotes, foxes, etc all belong to the same family – they are cousins. Every domestic dog is of the same species – they are siblings. And each breed of dog is a distinguishable type with individual characteristics. A Chihuahua is quite different from a Great Dane even though they are the same species! Plant cultivars are much like that.

Some plant cultivars are rather similar (a Labrador and a Retriever) while others are very different (Chihuahua and a Great Dane).

For example, the bell pepper, as mentioned above is Capsicum annuum, but that species includes other cultivars including jalapenos and cayenne pepper.

On the other hand, the species Brassica oleracea, a member of the Cabbage Family, includes 7 major cultivars: kale, Chinese cabbage, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi and broccoli. To me, kohlrabi and broccoli are quite dissimilar but scientifically speaking, they are the same species.


Finally, we have made our way to plant varieties. Keeping with the dog analogy, this is like picking the color of the dog you want. You can have a black or yellow Labrador. You can have a purple or white turnip. Seed companies (and individuals who keep seeds), work on varieties that desirable traits like good keeping qualities, better heat tolerance or even just a prettier plant. They give them a name and this is what you’ll see at the store. ‘White Lady Turnips’, ‘Snowball Cauliflower’ or ‘Kentucky Wonder Pole Beans’.

How to choose?!?!

First, start with what species you can grow in your area. Usually your climate doesn’t limit your choice much unless you are in an extreme area. My climate is marginal for celery but it can be done with care. In very northern areas, sweet potatoes may be difficult because they need such a long warm season. But really, you can grow nearly anything nearly everywhere in the US.

But you will need to research your varieties. Do not trust a store (Home Depot, Lowe’s, Walmart) to stock seeds that are the best for your area. They sometimes do, but frequently have ones that are not recommended. Again, your county extension agent can help you. Many varieties have been bred to resist diseases that may be prevalent where you are, or thrive in your specific climate. You will have a leg up if you start with seeds from plants that are known to grow well where you are.

On the other hand…I’m an experimentalist at heart. I’ve frequently seen a variety that I simple *had to have*. So I got it and tried it, despite it not being recommended (sometimes even warned against!). While most of these experiments have turned out as expected, some have had favorable outcomes. And I can ensure you, I’m not the only one that does this. Romanesco, a beautiful cauliflower, is said to be terrible in our climate. The biggest organic farm in the area gave it a shot one year and had enormous success and now they sell it at the market for more than ordinary cauliflower. So don’t be afraid to experiment – but make sure you have a good foundation growing plants known to do well before getting frustrated nursing along fussy plants!

--Log in or sign up to see linked image content--
2/14/2012, 3:00 pm Link to this post Send Email to TexasMadness   Send PM to TexasMadness
Saijen SilverWolf1 Profile
Live feed
Miscellaneous info

Head Administrator
Global user

Registered: 03-2010
Posts: 3632
Reply | Quote
Re: Vegetable Gardening 101: 3. Types of Vegetables

that look like something you'd find on an alien planet!!! Never seen anything like that, before!!

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you"
2/15/2012, 2:21 am Link to this post Send Email to Saijen SilverWolf1   Send PM to Saijen SilverWolf1 Yahoo
Firlefanz Profile
Live feed
Miscellaneous info

Global user (premium)

Registered: 05-2003
Location: Germany
Posts: 5712
Reply | Quote
Re: Vegetable Gardening 101: 3. Types of Vegetables

It's a kind of cauliflower. I think they call it romanesco. It's very cool, with those fractal "flowers".

  emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon

- Firlefanz

Mystical Adventures
Hannah Steenbock
The Pagan Porch
2/15/2012, 5:19 pm Link to this post Send Email to Firlefanz   Send PM to Firlefanz Blog

Add a reply

You are not logged in (login)