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What Is a Brassica Rapa?

By B. Turner
Updated May 16, 2024
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Brassica rapa is a perennial plant categorized as a noxious weed by the United States Department of Agriculture. Though it is native to central Europe, brassica rapa can now be found in many parts of the world, including North and South America. This perennial plant is part of the mustard family, and is grown by farmers to produce turnip greens and root vegetables. In areas where it grows wild, brassica ropa is often considered a nuisance, and can be harmful to other plant species.

This plant grows fairly tall, and features medium green leaves. It has a bulbous white root that can be eaten like a turnip or potato. The brassica rapa can be distinguished from similar species by its hairy, prickly leaves and stem. This species produces black or red seed pods that can be poisonous if consumed by humans or animals. The seeds are considered a threat to livestock in some agricultural settings, and must be carefully cultivated to prevent illness or lost livestock.

Brassica rapa features brightly-colored yellow flowers that grow in bunches along the length of the stem. Each flower consists of four long petals, as well as four central stamen. Two of these stamen are very long, while the other two are noticeably shorter, and all four are green. The petals and stamen do not feature the same bristled texture as the stem and leaves.

For many years, brassica rapa was used as a folk remedy for cancer and other maladies. While this type of application may persist in some regions, this plant is rarely used for medicinal purposes today. Instead, the roots are cultivated to feed livestock or to serve as a root vegetable for humans. The leaves can be cooked like spinach, and may be referred to as mustard or turnip greens. The seeds can be pressed to produce certain forms of oil, such as canola oil.

Brassica rapa features a very short growing season, so farmers wishing to cultivate this species must plant large quantities to ensure a significant yield. It's often grown in between rows of corn to maximize ground use. This type of application is successful because of brassica rapa's ability to tolerate frequent exposure to the shade. The soil used to grow this species must have a high PH measurement for the plant to thrive, and lime may be added to artificially adjust soil alkalinity to maximize growth.

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