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Mustard Family (Brassicaceae)

The Many Varieties Of The Cabbage, Other Edible Species, Weeds

The mustard family, or Brassicaceae, contains about 3,000 species of plants. These plants occur widely on all continents except Antarctica and in a wide range of habitats from tundra and desert to forests of all types. Most species in the mustard family occur in the temperate zones, and many occur in the alpine or arctic tundra.

The flowers of members of the Brassicaceae have four petals arranged in a cross-like pattern (the old name for this family was Cruciferae, referring to the cross of crucifixion). The flowers of mustards contain both female and male parts (i.e., they are monoecious). There are six stamens, of which four have long filaments, and two have short filaments. The seeds of plants in this family are contained in a relatively long inflated structure called a silique, or in a rounder flattened structure known as a silicle. When mature, the outer walls of the fruits fall away, leaving an inner partition to which the seeds are loosely attached.

A few species of the mustard family are of major economic importance. These include the many varieties of the cabbage as well as rapeseed (or canola), radish, mustard, and others. Other species in this family are used in horticulture, and a few are considered important weeds.

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