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
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.