Thursday, October 16, 2008

ID'ing those pesky Brassicaceae

Right then. I'll start with the most confusing specimen, and finish with the most joyously straightforward.

The first Brassicaceae family member I took to Julia was something that I thought was LIKE wild turnip, but NOT wild turnip.

Just to be clear - here's a pic of what I always thought was wild turnip ... (Click on it to see it better.)

But then, quite a few weeks ago I started to see this (below) springing up all over the place, looking very similar but not identical. (Brighter flowers, slightly bigger and bushier, and upper leaves a different shape.) So, wondering what it was, this was the one I took to Julia.

Well, Julia is pretty sure this second one is actually wild turnip (Brassica rapa ssp. sylvestris). And now that I do a bit more googling, it all makes perfect sense. Wild turnip is supposed to have those heart-shaped upper leaves that wrap around the stem.

So what is the first one then? The one I always THOUGHT was wild turnip? It definitely doesn't have any heart-shaped wraparound leaves. If you look closely you'll see that its upper leaves are very straight and stick straight out.

Okay, onto the next specimen. I thought this was probably wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum ssp. raphanistrum), and Julia confirmed this.

It has hairy leaves and distinctively veined flower petals like this:

The flowers come in a range of colours from quite pink to pale yellow to almost off white.

And finally, here's the third plant I took Julia:

It has four-petalled flowers like other Brassicaceae. They are yellow and super-small. I took a sample of this one along to Julia on the spur of the moment. I had noticed it starting to grow around the place just recently, but I had no idea what family member it could be.

Well, Julia has ID'd it as hedge mustard (Sisymbrium officinale)!

So in summary, and unless new info comes to light:

- What I thought was something LIKE wild turnip IS wild turnip, and what I thought WAS wild turnip is something LIKE wild turnip
- What I thought was wild radish IS wild radish.
- What I had no idea about is hedge mustard. Yippee.

And all of them are edible - although some are more bitter than others. I would boil all of them, at this time of year anyway, to get rid of the bitterness.

Now just to provoke some debate ... what should I be calling this family of plants?

I've resorted to cumbersomely calling them Brassicaceae all the time now, because it's the only name for them that feels clear to me. Here in NZ I've noticed a lot of people - including the person I talked to at the Massey Weed database recently - call them Brassicas, but I find that confusing, because Brassicas are also a genus within this family.

On a number of international websites (and I think in an Owen and Nic Bishop book I read recently), they call them the Mustard family or the Cabbage family. But those names are confusing too. (I was calling them Mustards until recently, then found out that can also refer to the plants within this family that have seeds used to make mustard.)

So - call me pedantic - but wondering if anyone has any thoughts on this!

No comments: