Celia Hart's blog about what's going on in and around her studio.
Art, printmaking, inspirations, gardening, vegetables, hens, landscapes, wild flowers, East Anglia, adventure, travel.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

The power of four

Cruciferae (or Brassicaceae)
"A family of mostly annual or perennial herbs with alternate leaves and racemes of 4-sepalled, 4-petalled flowers, the petals being arranged in a cross. There are usually 2 outer stamens plus 4 larger, inner ones. The ovary consists of 2 carpels but produces dry fruits of various forms, either capsules or indehiscent. Crucifers provide many valuable vegetables and are sources of useful oils. No members of the family are poisonous. There are 390 genera, with nearly 3000 species, mainly northern temperate."
A Dictionary of Plant Sciences by M Allaby 1998

No! Don't run away!
A little botanical knowledge is a useful garden tool . . .

You sow your seeds in the garden, you water them and little teeny weeny leaves appear. But – are they the seed you sowed or are they weeds? Or are they seeds that got muddled about when the junior gardener 'helped'? Being able to ID your beets from your lettuces and your beans from your brassicas is a useful skill.

Here's my guide to Crucifers. Think cross-shaped, four-lobed and you'll soon get the idea. This group of plants (also known as Brassicas) includes cabbage, kale, radish, horseradish, mustard, rape, cress, swede, cauliflower, turnip and pak choi to name just a few. And the clever thing is, when all these plants first germinate, the seed leaves all look very similar – like this . . .

these are French Breakfast Radish seedlings

and these are Purple Sprouting Broccoli

See! Easy peasy botany!

While we're looking for Crucifers, here are some that I found flowering in the garden today . . .

Hairy Bitter Cress
it's an annoying weed, but like all Crucifers it is edible
and it actually tastes nice and peppery

You may have noticed that the Hairy Bitter Cress flower has four petals – and that's true for all Crucifers. A lot of Crucifer flowers have white petals (Crambe, Arabis, Rocket) probably most of them have yellow flowers (Oil Seed Rape, Mustard, Land Cress). But some have been selected for their richly vibrant coloured petals . . .

remember to leave the seed heads so you can dry the papery 'moons'
and scatter the seeds for another year

not only beautiful colours, but a lovely warm peppery scent too,
these survived the winter and are flowering for a second year


  1. I've learned something today... and I've also identified my French Breakfast radish. I wasn't sure if it was them or weeds but now I know!

  2. Excellent tippy top tip here Mrs PPP. I know it will come in useful. Who needs Alys Fowler?

  3. Just to let you know there are a couple of awards for you on my blog, I hope you will accept them, but you are under no obligation. I just wanted to let you know that I enjoy your blog.

  4. Oooh, what a fabulous piece of info!

    I very rarely sow directly into the ground, here or on the allotment, so my main source of confusion is forgetting to label the seed trays - oooops.

  5. Fab tips there, I currently have some USOs (Unidentified Seed Objects) popping their heads up at the moment in our cold frame due to little ones helping :-) It is going to be fun to see what they turn into.

  6. I just love seedlings - full of so much promise, but in my case often confusion too, due to my lack of labelling abilities. Nicotiana turned out to be snapdragons last year, much to all my friend's amusement!

  7. Does that mean you can eat wallflowers? (Well...if you can grow them I mean)

  8. Well, you have amused me, and also educated me, with this post.

    Will I ever again have a garden of my own to do such explorations for myself. Not likely, but I do hope!

    Love the photos, and just think about how you might be about to translate them into ... prints! xo

  9. My 'power of four' award would go to cross wort - Gallium cruciatum. I love to find it on a country walk. Cheerful tiny yellow flowers too. I think it should be a garden plant - it's a stunner in full flight!

    However, I digest! It's essential to label your brassicas as they really do all look the same! I enjoyed this posting (as usual).

  10. Our wallflowers have survived many years and keep flowering, I am particularly fond of one particular plant, which has purply pink leaves with a cream stripe in them. It simply appeared one year from nowhere, and has stayed. I just love the heady scent of them in the warm sun, and underneath my washing line, they make pegging out even more of a pleasure. Maggie at laburnumcottage.blogspot.com

  11. Hello Celia, what a lovely blog! Thanks for your comment on mine - and I shall definitely be coming back to see more of yours. Lovely photos :-)

  12. Yep! my broccoli and sprouts look just like that! how reassuring!

  13. Now I've learned all about Crucifers. This was an interesting post, Celia. I loved the picture of the Wallflowers. Am wishing that I could get them to flower here.

    Hope you are enjoying lots of asparagus.

  14. Learned something there thanks. Got loads of those popping up everywhere, radish almost ready to pick.

  15. As a gardener you are always learning. Thank you Celia for all this useful information. I must remember wallflowers for my garden. Honesty does really well in my Dad's garden, but strangely doesn't in mine? Lovely photos. x

  16. Gosh, that was fascinating! Who needs Gardeners World! Lovely photos too... Penny x

  17. If you grow lots of brassicas, of course they all look almost the same... I forgot to say that ;-)

    Hi Gina - seedling id is a great skill to nurture.

    Hi Silverpebble - Alys who? Oh... her! I don't watch much gardening TV these days.

    Hi Su - Thank you, that's very kind of you.

    Hi Dottycookie - hope the lottie is thriving tis season :-)

    Hi Scented Sweetpeas - helping in my Gran's greenhouse when I was tiny has paid dividends as I can now id tiny seedlings at a glance.

    Hi Su - It's easy to believe the label rather than the leaf - always read the leaf ;-)

    Hi Jackie - I would think that wallflowers would be edible - not nice but not poisonous!

    Hi Frances - you could go crucifer spotting in Central Park :-)

    Good point Veg Heaven - I realised that after I'd posted this... mmm!

    Hi Maggie - enjoy your wallflowers :-)

    Hi Sue - thank you :-)

    Hi Matron - great stuff!

    Hi Kate - I love botany, it's an alternative career path I could have taken.

    Hi Damo - my radishes are so slow this spring.

    Hi Louise - try again with the Honesty, remember it takes 2 years to flower.

    Hi Penny - do you think they'd give me a job?



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