1. Family: Brassicaceae Burnett
    1. Genus: Brassica L.
      1. Brassica oleracea L.

        Brassica oleracea has been cultivated for at least 2,000 years, possibly much longer, and a wide variety of forms have been developed. Although considerably different in general appearance, cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts are all cultivars of Brassica oleracea.


    Kew Species Profiles

    General Description

    Brassica oleracea has been cultivated for at least 2,000 years, possibly much longer, and a wide variety of forms have been developed. Although considerably different in general appearance, cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts are all cultivars of Brassica oleracea.

    Brassica oleracea is a member of the cabbage family (Brassicaceae), which also includes turnip (Brassica rapa) and radish (Raphanus sativus). The common name cabbage derives from the French caboche, meaning head.

    Species Profile
    Geography and distribution

    Brassica oleracea is native to the Mediterranean region and southwestern Europe, as far north as southern England. It is found growing wild on seaside cliffs.


    Overview: Biennial or perennial herb, to 250 cm tall when in flower. Smooth, more or less woody, stem.

    Leaves: Few (in comparison to cultivars), fleshy, hairless, lobed, blue-green leaves. Lower leaves stalked and fairly large (up to 45 cm long), with irregular wavy margins.

    Flowers: With four pale yellow petals and six stamens (two outer ones shorter than four inner ones). Borne on flowering stems of 20–40 individual flowers.

    Fruits: A short-beaked siliqua (fruit divided into two cells by a thin partition) up to 10 cm long, round in cross-section.

    Uses Food

    Brassica vegetables are consumed in large quantities across the globe. They are an important source of dietary fibre, vitamins C and E, a range of B vitamins and carotenes. Their distinctive bitter flavour is due to the presence of glucosinolates, which can be toxic in certain circumstances but are also credited with potential anti-cancer activity.


    Marrow-stem kale, 1000-headed kale and kohlrabi are examples of cultivars grown for livestock feed and forage; kohlrabi is also eaten by humans as a raw and cooked vegetable.


    Cabbages with white, pink, green and purple foliage, sometimes with fringed margins, are cultivated as ornamentals. They are considered to be attractive in garden borders and are sometimes used in fresh flower arrangements. Ornamental kales with white or pink markings on the leaves are available.

    Cabbage cultivar groups

    There are considered to be eight main cultivar groups:

    Acephala Group (kale, borecole, collards)

    Also known as winter greens, these non-heading cultivars are probably the most similar in appearance to wild cabbage. Cultivars with coloured leaves are grown as ornamentals. Jersey longjacks have tall, woody stems that are used for walking-sticks. Other cultivars are grown for livestock feed and forage.

    Alboglabra Group (Chinese kale, Chinese broccoli, gai laan, kai lan)

    Leaves of these cultivars are used in Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai cuisine.

    Botrytis Group – (broccoli, cauliflower, broccoflower, calabrese)

    Bearing edible inflorescences in compact heads, these are popular vegetables served raw or boiled and are often accompanied with a white sauce. They are also used in pickles. Forms of cauliflower suitable for hot and humid climates have been developed in India over the past 200 years.

    Capitata Group (cabbage, savoy cabbage, red cabbage)

    Developed in Germany by the 12th century, these have a large, edible, terminal bud. Savoy cabbage has puckered leaves and is shredded for use in coleslaw. Red cabbage contains the pigment anthocyanin and is used for pickling. Sauerkraut is fermented shredded cabbage leaves that is popular in Germany and some other European countries.

    Gemmifera Group (sprouts, Brussels sprouts)

    Developed in Belgium in the 18th century, this form has dense, compact, axillary buds (like mini-cabbages) packed tightly on a single, upright stem.

    Gongylodes Group (kohlrabi, knol-kohl)

    Bearing a white, green or purple, turnip-like, edible swollen stem (5–12 cm wide).These first appeared in Europe in the 15th century and are consumed as a boiled vegetable or used as livestock-feed.

    Italica Group (purple sprouting, sprouting broccoli)

    Bearing edible inflorescences not compacted into a single head, these cultivars became popular in northern Europe in the 18th century. They are alleged to reduce the incidence of bladder and colorectal cancers.

    Tronchuda Group (Portuguese cabbage, seakale cabbage)

    Low-growing annuals with spreading leaves, fleshy petioles and broad midribs.

    Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage

    The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plant life worldwide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in our seed bank vault.

    More than 20 collections of Brassica oleracea seeds are held in Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank based at Wakehurst in West Sussex.

    This species at Kew

    Brassica oleracea 'Kamome Red' (ornamental kale)

    Brassica oleracea can usually be seen growing in the Plant Family Beds and Student Vegetable Plots at Kew.

    Dried and alcohol-preserved specimens of Brassica oleracea are held in Kew’s Herbarium where they are available to researchers by appointment. The details of one of these can be seen online in Kew’s Herbarium Catalogue.

    Specimens of Brassica oleracea seeds and seed oil, Jersey cabbage walking sticks and wool dyed with it are held in Kew’s Economic Botany Collection, where they are available to researchers by appointment.

    France, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom
    Coastal; on seaside cliffs.
    Not considered to be threatened; widespread in cultivation.

    Contains glucosinolates, which can cause goitre (enlargement of the thyroid gland) if consumed in large quantities (although also thought to provide protection against cancer).


    Cruciferae, Bengt Jonsell (University of Stockholm). Flora of Tropical East Africa. 1982

    Annual (in warmer regions) to bi- or perennial herb.
    Stem erect, often more than 1 m. high, with ascending branches, basally often woody, glabrous.
    Leaves fleshy, glabrous, glaucous; basal and lower cauline leaves petioled, lyrate-pinnatipartite with prominent whitish nerves; terminal lobe very large, up to 50 cm. long and 30 cm. broad, rounded at apex, ± cordate at base, entire, undulate, crispy or dentate; lateral lobes 1–5 pairs, small, entire or crenulate; median cauline leaves oblong to obovate, auriculate, obtuse, sinuate; upper leaves slightly clasping to auriculate, linear to oblong, entire.
    Racemes paniculate soon elongating, with large flowers on up to 8 mm. long pedicels, which in fruit become up to 20 mm. long and spreading.
    Sepals oblong, erect and connivent, ± 10 mm. long.
    Petals bright yellow or white, clawed, 15–20 mm. long.
    Anthers 2.5–4 mm. long.
    Ovules 30–40.
    Siliquae linear, ± torulose, sometimes on a gynophore, 50–100 mm. long, ± 5 mm. broad; beak conical to filiform, 5–15 mm. long; valves with a thick midnerve.
    Seeds dark brown, globose, 1.5–2 mm. in diameter, with a distinct fine reticulum.
    Food, fodder, ornamental.



    Found In:

    France, Great Britain, Spain

    Introduced Into:

    Algeria, Antipodean Is., Baltic States, Bangladesh, Belarus, Canary Is., Central European Rus, Chatham Is., China Southeast, Crozet Is., Czechoslovakia, East European Russia, Easter Is., Ethiopia, Falkland Is., Germany, Greece, Illinois, India, Kenya, Korea, Krym, Libya, Madeira, Morocco, Netherlands, New Caledonia, New Zealand North, New Zealand South, North European Russi, Northwest European R, Sardegna, South European Russi, Tanzania, Trinidad-Tobago, Tunisia, Ukraine, Zaïre

    Common Names

    Wild cabbage

    Brassica oleracea L. appears in other Kew resources:

    Date Identified Reference Herbarium Specimen Type Status
    s.coll. [Cat. no. 4798] K001039932
    s.coll. [Cat. no. 4798] K001039933

    First published in Sp. Pl.: 667 (1753)

    Accepted in:

    • [3] Chang, C.S., Kim, H. & Chang, K.S. (2014) Provisional checklist of vascular plants for the Korea peninsula flora (KPF) . DESIGNPOST
    • [4] Mohlenbrock, R.H. (2014) Vascular Flora of Illinois. A Field Guide , ed. 4: 1-536. Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale
    • [5] (2013) Botánica Macaronésica 28: 99-116
    • [6] Dimpoulos, P., Raus, T., Bergmeier, E., Constantinidis, T., Iatrou, G., Kokkini, S., Strid, A., & Tzanoudakis, D. (2013) Vascular plants of Greece. An annotated checklist . Botanic gardens and botanical museum Berlin-Dahlem, Berlin and Hellenic botanical society, Athens
    • [7] Mostaph, M.K. & Uddin, S.B. (2013) Dictionary of plant names of Bangladesh , Vasc. Pl.: 1-434. Janokalyan Prokashani, Chittagong, Bangladesh
    • [10] (2012) Preslia. Casopsi Ceské Botanické Spolecnosti 84: 647-811
    • [11] (2012) Smithsonian Contributions to Botany 98: 1-1192
    • [15] Akoègninou, A., van der Burg, W.J. & van der Maesen, L.J.G. (eds.) (2006) Flore Analytique du Bénin . Backhuys Publishers
    • [16] (2005) Biological Reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society 80: 45-72
    • [17] (2002) Botanical Journal of Scotland 54: 153-190
    • [18] (2000) Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea 2(1): 1-532. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia & The Department of Systematic Botany, Upps
    • [20] (1997) Flore de la Nouvelle-Calédonie et Dépendances 21: 1-121. Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris
    • [21] (1996) Atlas Florae Europaeae. Distribution of vascular plants in Europe 11: 1-310
    • [22] Govaerts, R. (1996) World Checklist of Seed Plants 2(1, 2): 1-492. MIM, Deurne
    • [23] MacKee, H.S. (1994) Catalogue des plantes introduites et cultivées en Nouvelle-Calédonie , ed. 2: 1-164. Museum national d'histoire naturelle, Paris
    • [25] (1982) Flora of Tropical East Africa , Cruciferae: 1-73


    • [1] (2016) Phytotaxa 250: 1-431
    • [2] (2014) Webbia; Raccolta de Scritti Botanici 69: 145-156
    • [8] Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (2013). Flora Europaea.
    • [9] (2012) Indian Journal of Forestry 35: 79-84
    • [12] (2011) Index synonymique de la flore d'Afrique du nord 3: 1-449. Éditions des conservatoire et jardin botaniques, Genève
    • [13] Vaughan, J. G. & Geissler, C. A. (2009). The New Oxford Book of Food Plants. 2nd Edition. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.
    • [14] Mabberley, D. J. (2008). Mabberley’s Plant-book: a Portable Dictionary of Plants, their Classification and Uses. 3rd Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.
    • [19] Huxley, A., Griffiths, M. & Levy, M. (eds) (1999). The New Royal Horticultural Society Dictionary of Gardening. Volume 1 (A to C). Macmillan Reference, London.
    • [24] (1991) Palmarum Hortus Francofurtensis 3: 1-108
    • [26] Agnew & Stewart in A.D.Q. Agnew, Upland Kenya Wild Flowers p. 94 (1974).
    • [27] Cufod., Enumeratio Plantarum Aethiopiae Spermatophyta (Supplement in Bull. Jard. Bot. Brux.) p. 150 (1954).
    • [28] Keay, Flora of West Tropical Africa, ed. 2, 1: 97 (1954).
    • [29] Robyns & Boutique in Flore du Congo Belge et du Ruanda-Urundi, 2: 530 (1951).
    • [30] (1948-1963) Flore du Congo Belge et du Ruanda-Urundi 1-10: null
    • [31] A. Chev., Fl. Viv. 1: 210 (1939).
    • [32] O.E. Schulz in A. Engler, Das Pflanzenreich IV. 105, 70: 27 (1919).
    • [33] A. Engler & O. Drude, Die Vegetation Der Erde, IX, Pflanzenwelt Afrikas 3 (1): 261 (1915).
    • [34] Th. Dur. & Schinz, Consp. Fl. Afr. 1 (2): 117 (1898).
    • [35] Dammer in Die Pflanzenwelt Ost-Afrikas und der Nachbargebiete, Theile B: 139, 153 (1895).
    • [36] A. Rich., Tent. Fl. Abyss. 1: 22 (1847).
    • [37] L., Sp. Pl.: 667 (1753).


    Flora of Tropical East Africa
    Flora of Tropical East Africa
    [A] http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0

    Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone
    The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (2017). Published on the internet at http://www.ipni.org and http://apps.kew.org/wcsp
    [B] See http://kew.org/about-kew/website-information/legal-notices/index.htm You may use data on these Terms and Conditions and on further condition that: The data is not used for commercial purposes; You may copy and retain data solely for scholarly, educational or research purposes; You may not publish our data, except for small extracts provided for illustrative purposes and duly acknowledged; You acknowledge the source of the data by the words "With the permission of the Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew" in a position which is reasonably prominent in view of your use of the data; Any other use of data or any other content from this website may only be made with our prior written agreement. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0
    [C] © Copyright 2017 International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

    Kew Species Profiles
    Kew Species Profiles
    [E] http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0

    Kew Library Art and Archives
    [F] Digital Image © Board of Trustees, RBG Kew http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/