Meet the Mustards

Broccoli and cabbage, mustard and turnips. Radishes, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. Kale and kohlrabi. Asian vegetables such as daikon radishes, bok choy, and gai lan (Chinese broccoli). Never has a plant family had so many tasty members.

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Cool Beans

When we think of legumes, we think of peas and beans, but those common foods are just the beginning. The pea family (Fabaceae or Leguminosae) is the third largest family of plants, with somewhere between 13,000 and 19,000 species (botanists disagree) that range from large trees to sprawling vines to shrubs and small forbs. They may look quite different from one another, but a careful examination will reveal a number of similarities, making the members of this fascinating family fairly easy to identify.

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Meet the Apiaceae

Heracleum sphondylium ssp montanum - Cow parsnip_DBG LAH 058What do carrots, cilantro, celery, and poison hemlock have in common? Think like a botanist. How do the leaves look? What shape is the root? What about the flowers? Yes, they’re all members of the Apiaceae (aka Umbelliferae) family of plants. So are caraway, anise, parsley, parsnips, and a whole host of other familiar species.

Members of this family are relatively easy to distinguish. The most obvious feature is in the way their flowers are arranged—like an umbrella, with a stalk and a cluster of flowers on stems all springing from a central point.

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Amaranthaceae

Family Amaranthaceae has a lot of members—over 2,000 species. You will likely recognize many of them. Some are ornamental—think of the garden annuals Gomphrena, Ptilotus, and Love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus). The Celosias are also amaranths—you might know some of them as the old-fashioned flower Cock’s Comb.

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