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Wild Cabbage (Brassica oleracea)

 
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The wild ancestor of head cabbage, kale, collard, Brussel Sprouts, kolrabi, cauliflower, and broccoli is native to coastal Europe and the Brittish isles and it naturally grows on rocky sea cliffs. It is federally listed as endangered in the United Kingdom so seeds from wild cabbage are hard to come by. From what information I've been able to gather from PFAF and Wikipedia, it is a biennial plant that doesn't flower until after overwintering. Out of all the domesticated forms of Brassica oleracea, the cultivars I have grown that seem the closest to the wild plant seem to be kale, collard, and gai lan/ Chinese Kale (Brassica oleracea var. alboglabra). Kale and collard are biennial like the wild cabbages that grow in coastal Europe and the Brittish Isles, but gai lan is an annual like broccoli and cauliflower which sets out loose flower buds about a few months after planting.

According to the North America Plant Atlas at bonap.org, escaped, wild populations of Brassica oleracea have been recorded in southern California and coastal New England as well as in a few scattered pockets throughout the United States. I am most interested in the populations recorded in New England because of the region's proximity to the coast and low winter temperatures. If the recorded populations in New England are self-sustaining and still present at the reported locations, they may either be descended from a very cold-hardy strain of biennial cabbage/collard or they may be descended from annual cultivars of cabbage. According to the New England plant atlas and bonap.org, populations of free-growing cabbage have been reported in Berkshire, Bristol, Essex, Middlesex, Nantucket, and Norfolk counties in Massachusetts; in Fairfield, Lichfield, and Middlesex counties in Connecticut; in Providence county in Rhode Island; and in Lamoille county in Vermont.

I am aware that there are a few members on this forum that live in coastal New England near Massachusetts and Connecticut. I would like to know if anyone from this area has found anything looking like broccoli or collard growing by rocky seashores and if they have had any experience foraging it or wildcrafting the seeds Because my chinese kale and field mustard is blooming in my garden, I wouldn't be surprised if any wild populations of wild cabbage in New England were in flower right now.

PFAF article on wild cabbage (Subject to link rot): https://pfaf.org/user/plant.aspx?latinname=Brassica+oleracea

New England Plant Atlas section on Brassica genus: http://neatlas.org/b.html#BRASSICA
2F2CF178-485E-400D-A731-DA9BF9E65B1B.jpeg
wild-cabbage-rosette-from-Wikipedia
wild cabbage rosette (from Wikipedia)
04B3DDB7-F1A1-494A-9EB2-749114C68DE3.jpeg
Wild-Cabbage-in-flower-Wikimedia-commons
Wild Cabbage in flower (Wikimedia commons)
82F266D1-8165-402A-A8C6-DB6533C9E956.jpeg
Chinese-Kale-Brassica-oleracea-var.-alboglabra-from-my-garden.
Chinese Kale (B. oleracea var. alboglabra) from my garden.
A7D8CFFE-710D-49F4-801C-FA8E2A94ABB2.jpeg
Brassica-oleracea-var.-alboglabra-from-my-garden.
B. oleracea var. alboglabra fom my garden.
A2964611-9223-45CA-90C6-812115F6FD53.png
Recorded-range-in-the-United-States-of-Brassica-oleracea-bonap.org)
Recorded range in the United States of B. oleracea (bonap.org)
 
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Good luck with the seed hunt! Here's a pic of some wild cabbage I'm growing here in Australia. It seems to do well in part shade where nothing else grows :)
P1260774.JPG
wilod-cabbage-brassica-oleracea-australia
 
Ryan M Miller
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I wonder how you were able to find wild cabbage seeds. I have only found two stores online that sell them. Both are located in Europe and both sources quickly go out of stock. I would ask you for seeds, but I would be concerned about the plants not making it through the winter where I live. Temperatures in my location in Southwest Ohio in the United States usually drop below -20°C (-4°F) at least once during the winter. During the winter of 2017-2018 it even got below -25°C (-13°F).

I am curious how the wild cabbage plants you are growing handle the southern hemisphere summer weather. Sydney looks about 14°C (6°F) hotter in the summer months than the southern range of wild cabbage in northern coastal Spain. Although It doesn't look like it gets much hotter in Sydney than in my Location in southwest Ohio and hot summers have never killed off any kale and collards where I live, I don't know if the crop-wild relative of kale and collard behaves any differently to exposure from Summer heat. Some cultivars of Brassica oleracea tend to be prone to heat stress when exposed to excessive daytime temperatures and large fluctuations in soil moisture.
 
Joseph hackett
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I bought the plant as a seedling from an online nursery called midsummerherbs, and here is a quote from their website "Wild Cabbage has been growing very well here, and has really impressed me, coping especially well in the high heat of summer in the full sun". They sell a lot of rare perennials and I have no idea where they source them.
 
Ryan M Miller
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I've done some searching on the Harvard University Herbaria & Libraries website and it looks like most specimens of free growing wild cabbage found in New England where the habitat is specified were collected from garbage dumps, abandoned farms, and other waste sites:

https://bisque.cyverse.org/image_service/image/00-EsesntQZE3zY9RbVgCnjDM?rotate=guess&resize=1250&format=jpeg,quality,100

https://bisque.cyverse.org/image_service/image/00-zZuJEEnKDzxetQGpbYy598?rotate=guess&resize=1250&format=jpeg,quality,100

https://bisque.cyverse.org/image_service/image/00-Mncc7ddvCcPagXZtNSCzU9?rotate=guess&resize=1250&format=jpeg,quality,100

https://bisque.cyverse.org/image_service/image/00-HADcSUVPty4u3hGCoLXHcJ?rotate=guess&resize=1250&format=jpeg,quality,100

https://bisque.cyverse.org/image_service/image/00-8MvVvhDKrENxzwvtUBLer7?rotate=guess&resize=1250&format=jpeg,quality,100

https://bisque.cyverse.org/image_service/image/00-QPKLsncet45ABRU8LkwRcL?rotate=guess&resize=1250&format=jpeg,quality,100

(One extra from gbif.org):

https://api.gbif.org/v1/image/unsafe/http%3A%2F%2Fdeliver.odai.yale.edu%2Fcontent%2Frepository%2FYPM%2Fid%2F202260%2Fformat%2F3

Only one specimen was found along a seashore:

https://bisque.cyverse.org/image_service/image/00-hUAQ4WfksfnDAo2oN8w6hd?rotate=guess&resize=1250&format=jpeg,quality,100

Conversely, there seems to be ample evidence that there are established populations of wild cabbage growing along the coastline of California. I found one herbarium sample specimen on gbif.org indicating it was found growing on a rocky seashore:

https://api.gbif.org/v1/image/unsafe/http%3A%2F%2Fhasbrouck.asu.edu%2Fimglib%2Fseinet%2FDES%2FDES00075%2FDES00075536_lg.jpg

The same website also shows six confirmed siting of wild cabbage growing on the coastline of California: four growing on the coast in Mendocino Headlands State Park, and two growing in the Marin Headlands by the Golden Gate Bridge near San Francisco.

Another website further confirms there are established populations of wild cabbage growing along the coastline of California:

https://www.americansouthwest.net/plants/wildflowers/brassica-oleracea.html

The presence of escaped populations of wild cabbage growing on the pacific coast is not surprising considering the region's similarity to the climate and natural habitat where Brassica oleracea grows in its native range. Unfortunately, none of the areas along the Pacific coast where it is established get much colder than 20°F (-7°c) so they are not likely to be hardy enough to overwinter where I live in Ohio.
 
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Interesting, this might explain what I found growing in one of my garden beds. I thought it was a volunteer broccoli plant at first, but couldn't figure out how it got there.
So, out of curiosity, I let it grow to see what would happen. This is where it's at now (attempting to upload photos).

Located in New London County, Connecticut ...so, I'm basically surrounded by all the areas you listed in the New England.
Not quite as leafy as your photos or on a rocky shoreline, but it did sprout from between the cobblestones for what that's worth.
Definitely has the feel of a brassica to it.


 
Pete Podurgiel
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here's some pics....
flowers.JPG
brassica-volunteer-flowers
flower
leaves.JPG
volunteer-brasscia-leaves
leaves
seed-pods.JPG
brassica-volunteer-seed-pods
seed pods
wild-plant.JPG
volunteer-brasscia-wild-plant
wild plant
 
Ryan M Miller
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Judging from the shape of the petioles (leaf/stem junctions) near the flowers in the photograph, this plant looks like either wild rape (Brassica napus) or wild field mustard (Brassica rapa) rather than wild cabbage (Brassica oleracea). Wild field mustard and rape have petioles on the flower stalk leaves that clasp around the main stem of the plant. If you life in an area with harsh winters and these plants flowered on their first year of growth, then the odds that these are field mustard or wild rape plants is higher. Wild cabbage leaves higher up the flowering stem do not have petioles that clasp around the stem. The leaves on the flowering stalk also tend to be serrated, thick, and have a strong blue/green color. Wild cabbage also tends to have duller colored flowers than field mustard (Brassica rapa).

Thankfully, both field mustard and wild rape are still edible. In fact, I am growing field mustard in my garden this year along with black mustard (Brassica nigra) and wild radishes (raphanus raphanistrum). I should be able to post photographs of them later today.
 
Ryan M Miller
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Regardless if wild cabbage grows in self-sustaining populations in New England, there are most certainly stable populations along the pacific coast of California. I found another website that has more information about possible coastal populations of wild cabbage in California: https://www.calflora.org/cgi-bin/species_query.cgi?where-calrecnum=9040
The furthest south along the coast they were recorded in the data set used for the website was at Emma Woods State beach outside San Buenaventura. The furthest north along the coast they were recorded was just north of Mendocino (possibly Point Cabrillo). I found another website herbarium that covers the Pacific Northwest, but only one specimen in Oregon looked promising: http://www.pnwherbaria.org/data/results.php?DisplayAs=WebPage&ExcludeCultivated=Y&GroupBy=ungrouped&SortBy=Year&SortOrder=DESC&SearchAllHerbaria=Y&QueryCount=1&IncludeSynonyms1=Y&Genus1=Brassica&Species1=oleracea&Zoom=4&Lat=55&Lng=-135&PolygonCount=0
Promising specimen:
http://www.pnwherbaria.org/images/jpeg.php?Image=SRP045132.jpg

Considering even in Heligoland where wild cabbage grows the temperature rarely drops below 16°F (-9°C), I wouldn't expect Wild Cabbage populations to grow very far north in the Pacific Northwest if there aren't any established escaped populations of wild cabbage in New England. I am pretty certain that the last posted plant from New England was Brassica rapa and not Brassica oleracea.
 
Ryan M Miller
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Ryan M Miller wrote:
Thankfully, both field mustard and wild rape are still edible. In fact, I am growing field mustard in my garden this year along with black mustard (Brassica nigra) and wild radishes (raphanus raphanistrum). I should be able to post photographs of them later today.



I guess I forgot to post pictures of my mustard I'm growing. I took these pictures about a month ago. The plants are going to seed now.

Another way to tell field mustard (Brassica rapa) from wild cabbage is the texture of the leaves. Field mustard and black mustard have thin leaves that are easy to blanch or sautée in five minutes. Loose, headless cultivars of Brassica oleracea, like kale and collard, have thick blue-green leaves that can take up to half an hour to sautée until tender. I would assume wild cabbage would take a similar length of time to cook as kale and collard.
931C2D11-385A-42BD-B1B9-155F8F6E7AB6.jpeg
Field-mustard-Brassica-rapa-buds-and-flower-stalk
Field mustard (Brassica rapa) buds and flower stalk from my garden. Notice the clasping petioles on the leaves.
0E54E997-FE40-48D5-9B28-61AF1E230E67.jpeg
Black-mustard-Brassica-nigra
Black mustard (Brassica nigra) growing next to the field mustard.
ACDA2A53-42CA-4605-9F44-19A81D79F3BD.jpeg
Black-mustard-flowers
Black mustard in flower
7D4D466A-3C44-4B29-998F-E97B8EC3A823.jpeg
mustard-flowers-Brassica-rapa
More mustard flowers (Brassica rapa).
 
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Ryan,

Thanks for the heads up! I live in RI and often visit coastal MA. I had no idea!

Have you had any luck locating your seeds? If not, I'll keep my eyes open for you.

As for my own brassicas, I have been very excited about perennial varieties over the past couple of years. I have been growing sea kale (Crambe maritima) since 2015, and am attempting to establish cold-hardy perennial kale/collard varieties in my zone 6b garden. I have several promising plants, so this next winter will be an interesting one!

Be well!
 
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Sadly I am not really fond of cabbage, as I have "weeds" that resemble all of the pictures featured in this board.  I do like the cheerful yellow flowers when it seeds, so at least there is that!  My yard is full of things that, if in a pinch, I know are edible--just not my preferred food.  They are there in abundance--growing without effort on my part, which is nice.  
 
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No wild cabbage growing around my property, however, I do have several spots where Wild Lettuce grows.
Check this out on the Internet. It has some amazing properties that make it a non-habit forming pain remedy.
You can either try and make it yourself or buy it from Amazon, which sells seeds, tinctures, extracts, capsules, and tea of Wild Lettuce.
 
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I live on the Mendocino coast of California, and there is a 'wild' brassica  that grows here, I've heard it called Sea Kale. It looks like what you're describing.

Here is somebody description of it
https://goldengategarden.typepad.com/golden_gate_gardener_/2014/07/mendocino-coastal-walk.html

And another photo I've taken of it with the seeds (and plants in the background) https://photos.app.goo.gl/pTta8wp3wbky867N6. I eat it, but it's a little tough and spicy.

Happy to collect seeds for you. Climate here is cool, rainy winter, very dry summers. This plant grows in the dry sand and salty beach area
 
Karl Treen
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Julia Dakin wrote:I've heard it called Sea Kale. It looks like what you're describing.



Hi Julia. Those seeds look like a brassica, but it's not sea kale. Sea kale has spherical seeds that don't look like traditional brassica seed pods at all. They look like small green grapes when fresh and dry up to contain one seed each.

I have heard that sea kale has become established in places along the west coast, but what you have there is something different.

Happy hunting!
 
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Haven't seen any here in central Maine. Way too harsh for them generally speaking, even in coastal areas (coastal areas get a bit less snow pack which leaves them more exposed to the extreme cold and drying winds).

So far, we have only had one cabbage variety able to survive the winters here, and only a few over the years (no where near enough to sustain a breeding population). Des Vertus - a savoy type with decent head size. So far, no oleracea's have been reliably winter hardy - no broccoli and only a one kohlrabi so far (the "Gigante" selection), plus one brussels sprout (unsure selection name) overwintered in a semi-sheltered location this last winter. Only the Des Vertus cabbage has surprised us more than once.

The napus and rapa species, on the other hand ... we often successfully overwinter russian kales and various turnips, even in our more harsh winters with little snow cover.

I do plan to push a few using extra winter mulching and a protected warm microclimate to see if I can at least keep enough cabbages alive over the winter to start collecting my own seed. That experiment starts this year. I doubt I'll be able to spawn a line of naturalized oleracea, though - winters are pretty tough around here
 
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There is a considerable population of wild cabbage that grows around Tenby in Pembrokeshire, UK. It grows on the shale at the top of the beach, above the sand, and on the cliff face above it. I've attached a photo.

I have actually eaten wild cabbage and it is tough and quite salty. I find it similar, although less palletable, to the perennial kales (Taunton Deane, Daubentons).
20220105_134645.jpg
wild cabbage that grows around Tenby in Pembrokeshire, UK
 
Luke Mitchell
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I took some photos of one of my Taunton Deane perennial kales to show their similarity. These guys are so happy in their new spot and have grown enormous.
taunton-deane-1.jpg
Taunton Deane perennial kale
taunton-deane-2.jpg
Taunton Deane perennial kale
 
Erika Bailey
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Tristan Vitali wrote:Haven't seen any here in central Maine. Way too harsh for them generally speaking, even in coastal areas (coastal areas get a bit less snow pack which leaves them more exposed to the extreme cold and drying winds).
The napus and rapa species, on the other hand ... we often successfully overwinter russian kales and various turnips, even in our more harsh winters with little snow cover.


I'm in Bangor, and I have overwintered red russian kale with no special  efforts.  It now reseeds itself and takes over half my garden space if allowed.  Last year was a seeding year and it got away from me, so I collected no seeds--but nature sure did!

 
Tristan Vitali
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Erika Bailey wrote:

Tristan Vitali wrote:Haven't seen any here in central Maine. Way too harsh for them generally speaking, even in coastal areas (coastal areas get a bit less snow pack which leaves them more exposed to the extreme cold and drying winds).
The napus and rapa species, on the other hand ... we often successfully overwinter russian kales and various turnips, even in our more harsh winters with little snow cover.




I'm in Bangor, and I have overwintered red russian kale with no special  efforts.  It now reseeds itself and takes over half my garden space if allowed.  Last year was a seeding year and it got away from me, so I collected no seeds--but nature sure did!



Those are the kind of weeds we love  
 
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There certainly are feral cabbage plants growing in coastal California, on coastal bluffs as well as urban vacant lots. They get called wild cabbage.
If any old cabbage that grows without being tended is Wild Cabbage, then you could just take the seeds from any cabbage (collards, kale, etc.) that you are growing, broadcast it, and call the ones that come up wild. Seeds would be easy to find.
But if seed is desired for the ancestral brassica, that is something different. Our "wild" cabbages are the offspring of domesticated cabbages, they are not the indigenous wild cabbage of Europe.
 
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