Leafy cousins

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Or­na­men­tal kale.

CHI­NESE kale, bet­ter known as kai-lan, is one of the most pop­u­lar greens whereas or­na­men­tal kale is prized for its colour­ful fo­liage. They may look very dif­fer­ent but the two are in fact closely re­lated. Kai-lan and or­na­men­tal kale are dif­fer­ent cul­ti­vars of a com­mon an­ces­tor — Bras­sica ol­er­acea, or the wild cab­bage. Originating from the eastern Mediter­ranean and Asia Mi­nor re­gion, the plant species, a bi­en­nial, was do­mes­ti­cally cul­ti­vated by an­cient Celtic peas­ants in Europe over 2,500 years ago. The Celts knew so much about the veg­etable that even the Latin word bras­sica is de­rived from bresic, the Celtic word for cab­bage.

Cab­bage spread to the Bri­tish Isles in the fourth cen­tury B.C. and be­fore the start of the first cen­tury A.D., the Ro­mans brought the food plant to north­ern Europe and Bri­tain. In 1536, Jac­ques Cartier, a French nav­i­ga­tor, took it to the Amer­i­cas.

Since then, wild cab­bage has been de­vel­oped into numer­ous and var­ied cul­ti­vars via hu­man cul­ti­va­tion and ar­ti­fi­cial se­lec­tion.

The cul­ti­vars are di­vided into seven ma­jor groups ac­cord­ing to their de­vel­op­men­tal form — Acephala Group (in­cludes kale and col­lard greens), Al­boglabra Group (kai lan), Botry­tis Group (cau­li­flower, broc­coflower and Ro­manesco broc­coli), Cap­i­tata Group (cab­bage), Gem­mifera Group (Brus­sel sprouts), Gongy­lodes Group (kohlrabi) and Ital­ica Group (broc­coli).

De­scended from the plant species Bras­sica ol­er­acea, kai-lan and or­na­men­tal kale are cool sea­son plants, hence they do not tol­er­ate ex­treme heat. Their in­ner leaves do not form the typ­i­cal round dense head of a cab­bage and they’re val­ued for their edi­ble fo­liage.

KAI-LAN — A CULTIGEN BRED FOR FLAVOUR

Kai-lan is placed in the cul­ti­var group, Al­boglabra. In Latin, al­bus is white and glabrus is hair­less. These words de­scribe

Chi­nese kai-lan.

the nat­u­ral char­ac­ter­is­tics of the plant. The ep­i­thet”ol­er­acea” means eaten as veg­etable.

Kai-lan is widely cul­ti­vated in Southeast Asia and China. Now a cultigen na­tive to cen­tral and south­ern China, the hardy short-lived herb peren­nial, grown as an an­nual crop, can be har­vested within three months.

The plant is mound-form­ing and can reach 40cm tall dur­ing the veg­e­ta­tive stage (be­fore flow­er­ing). The grey­ish­green veg­e­ta­tive parts are glabrous. The size, shape and tex­ture of the leaves can vary from one va­ri­ety to another. Its young leaves, stems and flow­er­ing shoots can be eaten raw or cooked. They are rich in es­sen­tial mi­cronu­tri­ents and vi­ta­mins, and

OR­NA­MEN­TAL KALE — A CUL­TI­VAR BRED FOR LOOKS

The or­na­men­tal kale, a mem­ber of the cul­ti­var group Acephala which means head­less in Latin, forms a tight rosette that looks like a flower when it opens. The cen­tre leaves need cool tem­per­a­tures to bring out its red, pink, pur­ple or creamy-white colour. The outer leaves are blue-green.

Also grown as an an­nual (ac­tu­ally a bi­en­nial), kale is round, com­pact and grows to about 45cm in height. It makes a bril­liant bed­ding plant and is per­fect for mass planting or for adding colour and con­trast to the land­scape.

The brightly coloured crin­kle-edged, feath­ery or round (de­pend­ing on the va­ri­ety) leaves can brighten up a con­tainer planting or a flower ar­range­ment and be used as a food gar­nish.

Un­for­tu­nately, un­like kai-lan, the or­na­men­tal kale is not adapt­able to low­land trop­i­cal cli­mate. Hence, it will be dif­fi­cult to grow them in our gar­dens.

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