Botanically, it’s Daucus Carota, but we all know them as carrots! These bright, crunchy, nutritious vegetables, are in reality, edible taproots of the carrot plant.
You must be picturing orange carrots while reading this, but did you know that all sorts of different colors, textures, and shapes are possible when it comes to garden-grown carrots? You’ll even find yellow, white, and purple varieties if you do some digging. Imagine munching on a purple carrot; hard to believe, isn’t it?
So how long have we been cultivating carrots? Where was the first carrot grown, and how long ago was that? More importantly, what the carrot plant is, and how do we use it? Continue reading, and you’ll learn all those things about carrots that you’ve always been wondering.
|Botanical Name||Daucus Carota|
|Plant Type||A Biennial But Generally Grown As An Annual|
|Size (Fully Grown)||12 Inches Tall (30 cm) And 4 – 8 Inches (10 – 20 cm) Deep|
|Sun Exposure||Full Sun But Tolerates Partial Shade|
|Soil Type||A Fertile, Deep, Or Sandy Soil That Can Retain Moisture|
|Soil pH||From 6.0 To 6.5|
|U.S. Hardiness Zones||3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, And 10|
Carrot Varieties Around The World!
These nutritious vegetables come in all sorts of different varieties to brighten up your dishes. Although you only find orange carrots in the supermarket, you can have more color and size options when you grow them in your garden. Here are some of the most popular varieties among gardeners:
- White Satin
- Atomic Red
- Lunar White
- Little Fingers
- Purple Dragon
- Scarlet Nantes
- Parisian Heirloom
- Deep Purple Hybrid
- Red-Cored Chantenay
And there are more too. From baby carrots that work perfectly in salads and soups to full-sized cylindrical varieties, all sorts of options are available. While most types prefer light loamy soil, some perform surprisingly well in heavy or rocky soil.
Where Did The Carrots Come From?
Carrots, which have become one of the most popular root vegetables cultivated in the world’s temperate parts, have a long and rich history. The species is native to Southwestern Asia and Europe.
It’s known to have originated somewhere in Persia (Iran and Afghanistan of today), around a thousand years ago. The wild carrots were bred through the ages to reduce their bitterness and hardness of the central core and increase the sweetness.
When they were first domesticated, carrots were grown for their leaves and seeds rather than the fleshy roots. Sources suggested that it wasn’t until the 1st century AD that carrots were being cultivated for their roots during the Greek and Roman times.
Furthermore, while we are more familiar with the orange varieties, early writings mention white carrot roots. But, there isn’t much information if the “white” roots were carrots or parsnips, so we can’t be sure.
By the 8th century, carrots were introduced in Spain. Later, during the 10th century, purple carrots came to India, West Asia, and Europe. By the 14th century, they had also appeared in China, and by the 18th century, they had spread to Japan.
The word “carrot” was used for the first time in English in the year 1530. It was a variant of the Greek phrase karoton, which originated from Indo-European “ker-,” meaning “horn.” The western, orange carrots, closest to the ones we use today, appeared in 1721 in Europe thanks to careful breeding of the yellow varieties.
What Does A Carrot Look Like?
Carrot is a root vegetable that grows close to the ground surface and does that best when growing in sandy or loamy soil. They produce approximately 8 to 12 leaves above the ground, reaching a height of over 12 inches (about 30 cm) and a taproot below the soil surface.
This conical, fleshy root is where the carrot stores all its energy. While carrots are mostly cultivated for their nutritious roots, the leaves are also edible.
Carrot leaves appear above the ground in the form of upright rosettes. Since carrots are a biennial crop, the leaves produce lots of sugar during the first year. Sugar that they store in the taproot.
If the roots aren’t harvested during the same year, all this energy will be utilized for flowering during the second year.
The leaves are also edible and work perfectly to garnish different soups, salads, and many other dishes. They are alternately arranged on the stem, forming a sheathing base at the end of the stem. This sort of arrangement is quite common to the Umbelliferae family, to which carrots belong.
The Root (That Carrot We Usually Talk About)
The most important part of the carrot plant, the taproot, is what we all love to eat. It anchors the plant to the ground, absorbs nutrients and water from the soil to transport it to the plant’s green parts, and acts as a food storage organ.
The roots usually grow to a size of 2 to 12 inches, but believe me or not the longest carrot ever grown was over 20 feet (about 6 meters). If you don’t believe me, check out this article on Guinness World Records. I also want to mention the heaviest one, which weighed over 22,44 pounds (about 10,17 kg)
The outer cortex is the phloem, while the inside core is the xylem. Phloem stores the majority of the plant’s carotenoid. Good quality cultivars have a much smaller core than the cortex.
Also, modern varieties are bred for a softer core. Some types come with a deeper pigmentation of the core, while others have more or less the same color for the two parts.
Even if you have grown carrots at home, you may not have seen the bundles of tiny white flowers that they produce. That’s because flowers on this biennial plant do not appear until the next growing season. We usually harvest the roots by the end of the first growing season, well before the plant gets to produce any flowers.
But if you leave your carrots unharvested, you’ll find long flowering stalks appearing on the plant with plentiful, tiny, white blooms on the tip. The flower clusters are a compound called an umbel. Each plant produces many umbels, with the main one appearing from the main flowering stem and secondary ones coming out of the side branches.
In What Kind Of Climate Do Carrots Grow Best In?
Carrots are hardy vegetables that grow well in most climates, making them an excellent choice for your gardening projects. But, there are some things you should know before you start to grow them in your garden.
Carrots grow best in cooler temperatures between 60 to 70°F (about 15 to 21°C). Most growers like to start the crop in early spring or late fall, so the plant matures before it gets too hot or too cold. Higher temperatures diminish the color and quality of carrots.
The plant is slightly frost-tolerant, but the growth rate tends to slow down when the temperatures fall below 50°F (about 10°C).
Carrots grow well in most temperate regions, and chances are it will thrive in your garden too. Plant them in full sun at a spot with light loamy or sandy soil fertilized with a balanced mix before sowing the seeds.
The seeds are usually sown three weeks before the last spring frost for a summer harvest. For a fall harvest, they are planted about ten weeks before the first fall frost.
In mild winter areas, such as South Texas, they can be grown all through the winters. Most cultivars will take around 70 to 80 days to come to harvest, so plan accordingly.
Read our post – Why Do Plants Need Water? A Simple Guide to This Wet Wonder to learn more about your plants’ watering needs, including carrots.
Is It Safe To Eat / Consume Carrots?
While carrots are healthy vegetables, are there any considerations about their consumption? Is it equally beneficial for everyone? Are there any medical conditions or allergies related to its excessive intake? Let’s find out!
Pregnant And Breastfeeding Women
Food amounts of carrots are healthy for pregnant and breastfeeding women. But, we’re not sure if large quantities are harmful, so include it in your diet but don’t live only with it.
Food amounts are safe for children, as they are for adults. But, avoid giving a lot of carrot juice to smaller children since it can cause yellowing of the skin and tooth decay.
People With Allergies
Those who are allergic to celery, birch, mugwort, parsley, and spices are almost always allergic to carrots as well. It’s called a celery-carrot-mugwort-spice syndrome. Some people also experience skin allergies when they touch carrots.
People With Diabetes
If you have diabetes, carrots are an excellent addition to your diet. This veggie has a low glycemic index and is thus also great for people who want to lose weight.
People with hypothyroidism shouldn’t overeat carrots. Carrots have high beta-carotene concentrations, which needs to be converted to Vitamin A by your body to be useful.
People who have hypothyroidism can’t convert this compound to Vitamin A, and excessive amounts of beta-carotene in their system can result in problems.
It may come out as a surprise, but eating too many carrots may turn you yellow! The skin experiences a yellowish discoloration, most prominent on your palms and soles.
This condition is called carotenemia and results from an excess of carotene in your system. It’s most common in children but isn’t something to worry about. It won’t cause any further health problems and can be easily reversed by switching to a low-carotene diet.
You’ll be happy to hear that carrots are safe for your household pets, and they even work as an occasional treat. Though, it’s important to remember that this vegetable possesses a choking hazard, so it’s essential to cut them into small pieces before serving them to your pets!