Cauliflower (Brassica oleracea), very similar to broccoli but paler, belongs in the Brassicaceae family. Cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, kale, and collard greens are also Brassica oleracea but different types.
All these vegetables are collectively named “cole” crops; the scientific name Brassica oleracea var. Botrytis distinguishes the cauliflower plant from the rest of the cole crops. So what the cauliflower plant is, and what makes these gorgeous flower heads so popular? Let’s find out!
Cauliflower is a cool-season vegetable that we grow for its edible flower head and thick stalks. The name that comes from a combination of two Latin terms, “caulis” meaning a stem and “Floris” meaning flower, highlights that it’s a flower. Though it’s a biennial, the vegetable is harvested during the first growing season while the flower heads are still immature.
Over the last couple of years, cauliflower has been trending as a low-carb and gluten-free alternative to legumes and grains. It works well as a pizza crust, cookie dough, bread dough, rice, and even mashed potatoes!
|Botanical Name||Brassica Oleracea Var. Botrytis|
|Plant Type||A Biennial But Grown As An Annual|
|Size (Fully Grown)||Height 1 – 3 Feet (About 30 – 91 cm) And Width 1 – 2 Feet (About 30 – 61 cm)|
|Sun Exposure||Full Sun But Also Partial Shade In Warmer Climates|
|Soil Type||A Well-draining (But Moist) Soil That Is Rich In Organic Matter|
|Soil pH||From 6.0 To 7.0|
|Flower Color||Depending On The Variety – White, Purple, Yellow, Orange, Or Green|
|U.S. Hardiness Zones||2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 And 11|
|Native Area||Northeast Mediterranean|
How Many Different Cauliflower Varieties Are There?
Hundreds of cauliflower varieties are available around the world, with varying features and climatic needs. You may only have seen white cauliflowers in grocery stores, but they also come in several other colors. Orange, purple, and green cauliflowers also exist, making a bright addition to any meal. Here are some of the most popular cultivated varieties:
- Fioretto 60
- Fioretto 85
- Early White
- Snow Crown
- White Corona
- Flame Star
- Orange Bouquet
- Purple Cape
- Sicilian Violet
- Di Sicilia Violetta
- Green Goddess
Where Did The Plant Come From? The History Of Cauliflower
The cauliflower plant originated somewhere in the Mediterranean region and has remained an essential part of Asian cuisine for centuries. The first mention of the vegetable’s ancestors occurs in the book Natural History by Pliny the Elder’s book, published in 1st century A.D.
Though the vegetable “cyma” mentioned in the records was an ancient variety of Brassica oleracea, it was much like the modern cauliflower.
The oldest cauliflower we know today can be traced back to Cyprus’s island during the middle ages. 12th and 13th-century Arab botanists believe Cyprus is where cauliflower originated from. From there, it spread to Syria, Turkey, and Egypt, and eventually to Europe.
Cauliflower was introduced to Europe in the 16th century, where it became popular as Cyprus colewort. In India, cauliflower only appeared after 1822 through the introduction of the British. In North America, it only became popular in the 1900s.
Today, the plant is widely cultivated in China, India, Italy, Poland, and many other countries, while China being the world’s largest cauliflower producer. In the U.S., 89% of the country’s cauliflower comes from California.
How Can You Identify Cauliflower?
Cauliflower is a herbaceous biennial that people grow as an annual, reaching a size of even 1,5 feet (about 46 cm) with a large inflorescence surrounded by broad, oval leaves.
Typically, we only eat the head, but all parts, including the stem and leaves, are edible. The plants are shallow-rooted, with a stout, thick stem, soft, white flesh on top, often called the “curd,” and ribbed leaves protruding from the sides.
The Cauliflower Head
The “star” of the plant is the head. It’s actually a collection of abortive flowers. These flowers that grow into the “curd” are the ones that do not produce fruit or seed because they only have female reproductive parts. The male reproductive parts are either not present at all or not fully developed yet.
The head is usually white, but you’ll also find them in some unusual colors such as orange, purple, and even green. High in nutrients and flavor, these succulent heads make a versatile vegetable. You can steam, roast, and stir-fry them, and even replace rice, flour, and other staples with it.
Flower And Fruit
The flower heads aren’t given a chance to develop and are generally harvested while still immature. But, if left attached to the plant, the head opens and will produce yellow flowers as a result.
The flowers then bear fruits in the form of dry capsules called siliques, which hold the seeds.
Below the head is the cauliflower stalk, which is just as edible as the head. You can also chop the stalk and use it in your cookings alongside the head.
The stems attached closest to the head are soft and can be used without peeling. The thicker part of the stalk, further from the head, is more rigid and will need to be peeled before adding them to the dishes.
The cauliflower head is surrounded by several large, oval leaves extending from the stalk at the bottom. The thick midrib and veins are white, and the leaves are sometimes curled around the edges.
The leaves grow much higher than the head and are often tied over the head before harvest to prevent the curd’s discoloration.
Cauliflower leaves aren’t just edible; they’re healthy and delicious as well. They’re loaded with iron and antioxidants, with a texture like kale but sweeter. You can add them to your recipes alongside the cauliflower head for a crunchy twist.
Growing Cauliflower – What To Keep In Mind?
Cauliflower isn’t the easiest vegetable to grow since it’s a little picky about its surroundings. But, if the weather doesn’t get too hot or too cold in your region, and there’s ample sunlight, it’s the right vegetable for you. Here are some useful tips to make sure your harvest is spectacular.
What Temperature Is Optimal For Growing Cauliflower?
The primary consideration for growing flawless flower heads is the temperature. The plant needs a consistent temperature that ranges between 60 to 65°F (about 15,5 to 18°C).
Cauliflower is very sensitive to temperature changes and will easily button or bolt if the temperatures exceed 75°F (about 24°C).
Growers usually plant cauliflower in the spring, 4 to 5 weeks before the last spring frost if started from seeds. But if you’re growing cauliflower from small nursery plants or seedlings, you can plant them in the garden 2 to 4 weeks before the last frost.
You can plant a fall crop 6 to 8 weeks before the first fall frost, as soon as the temperatures are regularly below 75°F.
Soil And Sun
Well-drained, fertile soil at a spot with full sun is ideal for growing cauliflower. But, if you live in a warm/hot climate, the plants will enjoy some afternoon shade.
Water And Fertilizer
Cauliflower needs consistent, ample waterings to produce sweet heads. Without adequate water, the heads will turn bitter. So, remember to keep the soil mulched with organic matter to conserve moisture and provide at least 1 inch (approximately 2,5 cm) of water each week if there’s no rain.
Since they need a long growing season to mature, you can replenish the soil nutrients every month or so with dilute organic fertilizer, like fish emulsion, for example.
Is It Safe To Eat / Consume Cauliflower?
Eating cauliflowers has many health benefits because they are rich in Vitamins C, K, B6, folate, and plenty of other essential nutrients. But are there any side effects of consuming it? Is there any condition in which its use needs to be controlled? Here’s some useful info on the subject.
Pregnant And Breastfeeding Women
While cauliflower is safe, a very healthy plant for pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers often avoid it in their diet. It’s considered a gassy vegetable and may cause colic pains in babies.
Cauliflower can be challenging to digest, so it’s not recommended for very young children. But, you can include it in your child’s diet, in moderate amounts, of course, when they are at least 8 to 10 months old.
And the main reason to offer it to your children? Well, because the plant is rich in nutrients that are necessary for a growing child.
People With Allergies
Cauliflower allergies are infrequent. If you’re allergic to plants in the Brassicaceae family, including Brussels sprouts, and cabbage, there’s a chance you’re also allergic to cauliflower.
Symptoms of an allergic reaction can include swelling, itching, breathing difficulties, eye irritation, and a runny nose, to name a few.
People With Diabetes
Cauliflower is rich in dietary fibers and several essential nutrients, which is why it’s an excellent addition to your diet if you have diabetes.
In short, cauliflower isn’t toxic. You can safely feed it raw or cooked to your pets, but remember, only in small amounts!