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Botany for Gardeners: Taxonomy of Dicots – Identifying the Mustard Family

candytuft Iberis headMembers of the mustard family include mostly herbaceous annuals, biennials and perennials and a few wood shrubs. Members include cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, turnip, radish, horseradish, and watercress as well as some very attractive garden plants such as sock (Matthiola), candytuft (Iberis), wallflower (Erysimum) and honesty (Lunaria) The botanical names for the family are Cruciferae, meaning “cross-bearing” and Brassicaceae.

Remembering that the mustard family has also been known as Cruciferae, meaning “cross-bearing” is a big aid to identifying these plants because it reflects one of the major characteristics of the family.

The major characteristics that can be seen in the field are:

Four petals form the shape of a cross, and X, or an H

broccoli flowers 2






Six stamens, four of which are tall, two short

flower typical

The seed pods (silique) open on two sides to reveal seeds and a membrane in the middle.

silique Cardamine impatiens WikiSilique Honesty_(Lunaria_annua)

There are over 350 genera and 3,700 species in the mustard family and over 55 genera in North America. Most species are weedy and all are edible. They are common in disturbed soil where they can sprout and grow quickly.

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Recommended Reading:

From Seed to Plant
Trees: Their Natural History
Oh Say Can You Seed?