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the web of life in southern Africa

Brassica rapa (Turnip, Rapes, Mustards, Oriental cabbages)

[= Brassica campestris]

Life > eukaryotes > Archaeoplastida > Chloroplastida > Charophyta > Streptophytina > Plantae (land plants) > Tracheophyta (vascular plants) > Euphyllophyta > Lignophyta (woody plants) > Spermatophyta (seed plants) > Angiospermae (flowering plants) > Eudicotyledons > Core Eudicots > Rosids > Eurosid II > Order: Brassicales > Family: Brassicaceae > Genus: Brassica 

Native to Europe and Asia and grown from at least 3500 years ago as an oilseed crop in India. Turnips were first grown in Europe and cabbage-like varieties were developed in the Far East.

The wild form of this species is native to Europe and Asia and has slender roots.It has been a weed of cereal crops since the start of agriculture in the Neolithic period. It was domesticated at an early date, independently in different regions. As far back as at least 1500 BC it was being grown as an oilseed crop (= Rape) in India and this has continued in this country up to the present day. In Roman times, the Gauls and other European groups were growing Turnip (a variety of Brassica rapa with a swollen root that is eaten cooked at a vegetable) and it had probably been grown as a vegetable in this region well before this time. Turnips were also grown for feeding livestock. In the Far East, B. rapa has been grown mainly as a leafy vegetable and two important cultivars include Chinese Celery Cabbage and Chinese White Cabbage. As with Brassica oleracea in Europe, B. rapa was very important to the Chinese in surviving the long winters: they either kept it fresh for as long as possible or pickled it.


  • Sauer, J.D. 1993. Historical geography of crop plants - a select roster. CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida.

Text by Hamish Robertson