The 25th July 2021 marks 400 years of botanical research and teaching by the University of Oxford.

As a celebration and count-down to this anniversary, the University of Oxford Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum, together with the Oxford University Herbaria and the Department of Plant Sciences, will highlight 400 plants of scientific and cultural significance. One plant will be profiled weekly, and illustrated with images from Oxford University's living and preserved collections.

  • Plant 44: Helianthus annuus
  • Plant 43: Ricinus communis
  • Plant 42: Simmondsia chinensis
  • Plant 41: Chara sp.
  • Plant 40: Zingiber officinale
  • Plant 39: Aristolochia clematitis
  • Plant 38: Allium cepa
  • Plant 37: Galium tricornutum
  • Plant 36: Artemisia annua
  • Plant 35: Rosa canina
  • Plant 34: Nepenthes rajah
  • Plant 33: Dianthus caryophyllus x Dianthus barbatus
  • Plant 32: Taraxacum sp.
  • Plant 31: Victoria cruziana
  • Plant 30: Lathyrus odoratus
  • Plant 29: Heliconia rostrata
  • Plant 28: Senecio squalidus
  • Plant 27: Paulownia tomentosa
  • Plant 26: Urtica dioica
  • Plant 25: Euphorbia characias
  • Plant 24: Heliamphora nutans
  • Plant 23: Laurus nobilis
  • Plant 22: Tulipa sylvestris
  • Plant 21: Pleurococcus sp.
  • Plant 20: Gleditsia triacanthos
  • Plant 19: Tillandsia usneoides
  • Plant 18: Marchantia polymorpha
  • Plant 17: Daphne mezereum
  • Plant 16: Citrus medica
  • Plant 15: Coffea arabica
  • Plant 14: Gossypium species
  • Plant 13: Stachyurus praecox
  • Plant 12: Encephalartos ferox
  • Plant 11: Aloe vera
  • Plant 10: Araucaria angustifolia
  • Plant 9: Isoetes echinospora
  • Plant 8: Hamamelis virginiana
  • Plant 7: Lithops species
  • Plant 6: Sequoiadendron giganteum
  • Plant 5: Commiphora saxicola
  • Plant 4: Buxus sempervirens
  • Plant 3: Picea abies
  • Plant 2: Cinnamomum verum
  • Plant 1: Taxus baccata

  • Follow us on Twitter @Plants400

    The data and images available on this site may only be used for scientific purposes. They may not be sold or used for commercial purposes. All images are copyright of the University of Oxford, unless otherwise indicated.

    The specimens at the Oxford herbaria and the living collections of the Oxford Botanic Garden and Oxford University Herbaria are being digitized using BRAHMS.


    Dr Alison Foster (

    Dr Stephen Harris (

    plants400/OBGHA.JPG BANNER03.JPG

    Plant 45

    Brassica oleracea L. (Brassicaceae)




    Europeans have lived off cabbage for centuries. As cabbage moved out of its native home in the Mediterranean, different cultures selected different features of the plant and diverse forms were generated. In 1648, Jacob Bobart the Elder was growing many cultivated cabbages in the Oxford Botanic Garden, including 'White Cabbage Colewort', 'Coleflower', 'Savoy Cabbage', 'Common Colewort' and 'Parsly Colewort', together with 'Wild Colewort' and 'Sea Colewort'. By 1658, 'Red Cabbage' was on the menu.

    These diverse cabbage forms are all derived from wild cabbage through artificial selection of particular features. In the kales and headed cabbages variation in internode length produces plants with loosely or tightly packed heads. The cauliflowers and broccolis have thickened, undeveloped flowers and flower stalks. Kohlrabi has a grossly enlarged stem, whilst brussels sprouts have greatly expanded buds. One year after Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species, researchers at Cirencester Agricultural College used simple selection experiments to breed broccoli, and other cabbage-like forms, from the wild cabbage found on the English coast.

    Kales are the most ancient cultivated cabbage forms. Until the mid-eighteenth century, cabbages generally, and kales particularly, were known in England under their Anglo-Saxon name 'colewort'. However, kales are not well suited to the cool conditions of northern Europe, where cold-tolerant, headed cabbages were selected. Classical authors do not mention headed cabbages and there are only ambiguous references in the mediaeval European literature. By 1536, the French botanist Jean Ruel gives an unmistakable description of a white, headed cabbage. The western migration of headed cabbage from Europe started in 1541, and by 1669, it was growing in the English Colonies of the United States.

    In England, Pliny's sprouting broccoli was not grown until the early-eighteenth century. However, the cauliflower is an ancient cultivated form. Spanish cauliflower cultivars from the twelfth century were considered as Syrian introductions, and its cultivation described by sixteenth-century travellers in Turkey and Egypt. Cauliflowers (Cyprus coleworts ) were rare in sixteenth-century England, but by the early-seventeenth century they were common in London markets.

    In contrast, kohlrabi and sprouts have been developed much more recently. The first description of kohlrabi was made by the Italian botanist Pier Andrea Mattioli in 1554, but it was not grown extensively in England until the late-nineteenth century. Today, sprouts are commonplace but they were not described until 1587, and even in the seventeenth-century English botanists had heard of sprouts but rarely seen them.

    Bloch-Dano E 2013. Vegetables. A biography. The University of Chicago Press.

    Dixon GR 2007. Vegetable brassicas and related crucifers. CABI.

    Stephen Harris