Brassicaceae: A Family Portrait


Brassicaceae: A Family Portrait
  • Posted May 7, 2015

The Brassicaceae family probably contains more species that your seven year old refuses to eat than any other — broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kohlrabi, radishes and rutabagas, among a dozen others.

Broccoli Brussel Sprouts Cabbage
Kohlrabi Radish Rutabaga

They might be intrigued to know, however, that the mustard they love to spread on their hamburgers and hotdogs is made from the seeds of the mustard plant, which is practically the same thing as collards and kale. They may or may not be impressed with such a rationale to eat their vegetables, but perhaps it will spark their curiosity about the fascinating world of botany, at the least.


If you have a sweet-scented planting of alyssum or stock in the yard, you can show your kids the sweeter side in the family to balance their view of those odoriferous vegetables. There are also the beautiful but scentless wallflowers and candytufts that you can show them if you count these Brassicaceae in your flowerbeds.

Alyssum Stock Wallflowers Candytuft

Or, you could ask them if they would like to sow seeds of the money plant, a flowering annual whose flat round seedpods resemble silver dollars and are a common component of dried flower arrangements.


The diversity doesn't stop there, however, but the other Brassicaceae may be more interesting to you than your children. The family has a hot and spicy side, for example. Beyond mustard, there are the various types of radishes in the family, including the infamously hot wasabi radish, the family's gift to the world of sushi. Another radish, called maca, which grows high in the Andes, is not as spicy, but contains caffeine and has long been consumed by traditional Andean peoples. Most of us cook with oil from the Brassicaceae family (canola oil) though more and more we are powering our trucks, tractors and other diesel equipment with another Brassica's oil: bio-diesel made from mustard seeds.

Hot Wasabi Radish Maca Radish

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Brian Barth
About the Author

After 15 years as a professional landscape designer and horticulturalist, Brian Barth embarked on a second career to share his passion—and the knowledge he's accrued—through writing. His love of plants is all-encompassing, but he has a particular soft spot for culinary crops.


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Brassicaceae: A Family Portrait