Hi there! Julia here this holiday week for a blog post on plant families!
Plant taxonomy is the process of naming, identifying, and classifying plants. To classify plants they are sorted into division, class, order, family, genus, and species. The process of classifying plants into families is based on plant features that reflect the possibility of common ancestries such as the number shape and position of leaves, flowers, and petals and other characteristics such as how the stems and roots grow. The families common morphological features help us identify that family and understand the plant members relate to one and other. With a morphological understanding in place, farmers and gardeners are able to identify trends within the family such as preferred soil, heat, and water conditions, which also vary a lot by region.
Knowledge of the plant families is both helpful and necessary. The practice of crop rotation has derived from a knowledge of plant families. Crop rotation is a process of rotating the land used to grow each plant family year by year. It is best to give a plot of land a 1-4 year break from a plant family if possible. Crop rotation helps to prevent the spread of soil diseases, insect problems, weed problems and is vital to soil health.
Below is a list of the plant families that Morven is home to, some families are less represented than others but overall it’s a diverse bunch! All plant families end in aceae which derives from aceus in Latin and means belonging to or the nature of.
ALLIACEAE – The Onion Family
Currently living at Morven: Green onions and Garlic
Past visitors: White and Red Onions
- Mostly biennial or perennial
- Require good drainage and loose sandy soil
- Most store nutrients in swollen bulb underground
- The fruit grows in a capsule, long thin leaves shoot up from the bottom
- This family likes cooler weather and can start early and grow late
Other family members: Leeks and Chives
AMARANTHACEAE – The Armanath Family
Currently living at Morven: Beets, Swiss Chard, and Pigweed (common weed)
- Does well in cool weather – best planted in spring or late summer
- Bolts in hot weather
- Deep roots that break up soil and recycle nutrients – need well-drained soil
- Amaranths such as pigweed are hardy and drought tolerant and need lots of sun
Other family members: amaranth, quinoa (Amaranthus), lamb’s quarters
(Chenopodium), spinach (Spinacia), cock’s comb (Celosia).
ANACARDIACEAE – The Cashew Family
Currently living at Morven: Poison Ivy! Not in the garden of course, but in the surrounding land you are likely to come across it.
- Trees, shrub, lianas, or perennial herbs
- Plants in this family tend to have toxic sap called urushiol, an oily chemical compound with allergenic properties.
- Most of the family is native to tropical areas but a few including poison ivy and poison oak are found in the colder regions of North America
Other family members: cashew (Anacardium), sumac (Rhus), poison oak (Toxicodendron), pistachio (Pistacia), mango (Mangifera), pink peppercorn tree (Schinus).
APIACEAE – The Carrot Family
Currently living at Morven: Parsley
Past visitors: Carrots
- Members with edible portion underground need loose, deep, and well-drained sandy soil.
- Most direct-seeded.
- Colder weather planting, best six to eight weeks before the last frost.
- Can also be seeded in late August.
- Flowers arranged in umbels, hollow stems, leaves alternate and are often dissected
- Slow germinating seeds, can cross-pollinate.
Other family members: caraway, celery, celeriac, chervil, coriander/cilantro, cumin, dill, fennel, parsnips, root parsleyon
ASTERACEAE – The Aster and Sunflower Family
Arriving soon: Lettuce mix, Sunflowers, Yaro, Mugwort (common weed)
Past visitors: Chamomile
- Fast growth period
- Some members have sensitive roots; best if direct-seeded or transplanted a few weeks after starting
- Common for the flower head to be a composite of many small flowers forming a disk
- Lettuces do best in cool-season and shade
- Need lots of organic matter in the soil
- Attracts beneficial insects
Other family members: artemisia, cardoon, chamomile, chicory, chrysanthemums dandelion, endive, escarole, globe artichoke, Jerusalem artichoke, lettuce, marigolds, safflower, salsify, scorzonera, shungiku (edible chrysanthemum), tarragon.
BRASSICAEAE – The Mustard Family
Currently living at Morven: Cabbage, Broccoli, Kale, Collards, Turnips, Radish
Past visitors: Kohlrabi
- Herbaceous plant growth, alternating leaves
- Cooler season crop
- Does not need loads of water, the skin has a waxy cuticle that helps retain moisture.
- Fruit a capsule with an inner wall
- Frost sweetens plant taste
- All above-ground parts of Brassica plants are edible
- Cabbage moths lay eggs on Brassica plants and the caterpillar eats leaves (to identify: small white moths eggs become a light green caterpillar; caterpillar poops dark green pellets on leaves)
Other family members: white mustard (Sinapis), garlic mustard (Alliaria), horseradish (Armoracia), brussels sprouts, kale, collards, rutabaga, canola, black mustard, turnip (Brassica), arugula (Diplotaxis,‘rustica’ type), mouse-ear and thale cress (Arabidopsis), yellow rocket (Barbarea), radish (Raphanus), woad (Isatis), watercress (Nasturtium).
CONVOLVULACEAE – The Morning Glory Family
Currently living at Morven: Sweet Potatoes
- Herb or shrub having climbing tendencies
- Native to tropical or temperate areas- woody shrub in drier areas, climbers with long trailing stems in tropical areas.
- Virginia climate – best to plant in late May or early June and keep until the fall
- Do not survive the frost
Other family members: morning glories
CUCURBITACEAE – The Gourd Family
Currently living at Morven: Zucchini, Cucumbers, Zephyr Squash, Spaghetti Squash, Butternut Squash
Past visitors: Melons
- Fast grow time
- Thrive in moist soil- best to use compost
- Sensitive to transplanting, direct seed or transplant when only a few weeks old
- Risk of mildews and blights when grown on the ground – trellis to avoid
- Cucumber and flea-beetles threaten plant health
Other family members: cucumber, gourds (angled luffa, bitter gourd (balsam pear, bitter melon), hard-shelled gourd, smooth luffa, snake gourd), melons (cantaloupe/muskmelon, casaba, honeydew melon, watermelon), squash/marrow (acorn, banana, buttercup, butternut, cheese, crookneck, delicata, golden cushaw, hubbard, kabocha, pumpkin, scallop, spaghetti, zucchini/courgette), west Indian gherkin
FABACEAE – The Legume Family
Currently living at Morven: Green Beans
- Vine plant growth
- Fruiting a legume that splits open with seeds on one side
- Roots form a symbiotic relationship with a type of bacteria that coverts’ atmospheric nitrogen into a type of nitrogen that plants can intake, this process is called “nitrogen-fixing”
- Sensitive roots; transplanting will decrease nitrogen-fixing abilities; best to direct seed and thin by pruning not uprooting
Other Family Members: alfalfa, beans, clover, cowpea, fenugreek, lentil, Lupin, peas, peanuts, tares/vetches, trefoil
LAMIACEAE – Mint Family
Currently living at Morven: Basil, Lemon Basil, and Cinnamon Basil.
- Leaves opposite at 90 degrees to each other
- Mostly perennial
- Drought tolerant
- Not picky about soil
- Extensive root systems
Other family members: mint, rosemary, thyme, lavender, sage, and cat nip
POLYGONACEAE – The Buckwheat Family
Currently living at Morven: Buckwheat
- Simple toothless leaves, swollen nodes on the stem, small flowers with colored sepals, and no petals
- Many have triangular seeds
- Great cover crop, attracts beneficial insects
Other family members: rhubarb (Rheum), buckwheat (Fagopyrum), smartweed, knotweed, pinkweek, persicaria (Polygonum, Persicaria, Fallopia), sorrel (Rumex).
SOLANACEAE – The Nightshade Family
Currently living at Morven: Tomatoes, Potatoes, Peppers, Eggplants
Past visitors: Tomatillo
- Herbaceous in temperate areas, often woody in tropics
- Fruit in the form of a berry, drupe, or capsule
- Best in rich damp soil with lots of organic matter — plant in warm soil after frost
- mostly perennials, but commonly grown as annuals
- Toxic greens (leaves), potatoes exposed to the sun while growing turn green and become toxic
- Should be started as seedlings before the last frost; all members except potatoes need warm soil to be planted
- Tomatoes can be planted with lower stems submerged- stems will become roots
- Potatoes must be hilled, stems or greens submerged will become potatoes
Other family members: garden huckleberry, peppers (Caribbean red hot peppers, chili pepper, habanero, hot paper lantern, sweet pepper), paprika, tobacco, tomatillo/husk cherry
For biological specifics on each family:link1 link2
For gardening specifics on each family:link1 link2 link3
History of plant taxonomy: link
Defining plant taxonomy: link
Crop Rotation: link
Modern applications of plant taxonomy and the evolving field: link
BONUS: Cooking suggestions with CSA veggies
Vegetable filled quiche
Quiche above has roasted potatoes and sautéed kale, carrots, shallots, and garlic scapes.
Chard wraps: repurpose your wilted chard!
Leaving chard in the fridge unwrapped achieves the perfect texture for a wrap.
Zucchini or Zephyr Squash Bread!
Zephyr or any summer squash can be substituted for zucchini in a zucchini bread recipe. The bread above was made with zephyr squash.