Beta vulgaris Linn. Chenopodiaceae. Beet. Chard. Chilian Beet. Leaf-Beet. Mangel. Mangel Wurzel. Mangold. Roman Kale. Sea Beet. Sea-Kale Beet. Sicilian Beet. Spinach Beet. Sugar Beet. Swiss Chard.
Europe and north Africa. The beet of the garden is essentially a modem vegetable. It is not noted by either Aristotle or Theophrastus, and, although the root of the chard is referred to by Dioscorides and Galen, yet the context indicates medicinal use. Neither Columella, Pliny nor Palladius mentions its culture, but Apicius, in the third century, gives recipes for cooking the root of Beta, and Athenaeus, in the second or third century, quotes Diphilus of Siphnos as saying that the beet-root was grateful to the taste and a better food than the cabbage. It is not mentioned by Albertus Magnus in the thirteenth century, but the word bete occurs in English recipes for cooking in 1390.
Barbarus, who died in 1493, speaks of the beet as having a single, long, straight, fleshy, sweet root, grateful when eaten, and Ruellius, in France, appropriates the same description in 1536, as does also Fuchsius in 1542; the latter figures the root as described by Barbarus, having several branches and small fibres. In 1558, Matthiolus says the white and black chards are common in Italian gardens but that in Germany they have a red beet with a swollen, turnip-like root which is eaten. In 1570, Pena and Lobel speak of the same plant but apparently as then rare, and, in 1576, Lobel figures this beet, and this figure shows the first indication of an improved form, the root portion being swollen in excess over the portion by the collar. This beet may be considered the prototype of the long, red varieties. In 1586, Camerarius figures a shorter and thicker form, the prototype of our half-long blood beets. This same type is figured by Daleschamp, 1587, and also a new type, the Beta Romana, which is said in Lyte's Dodoens, 1586, to be a recent acquisition. It may be considered as the prototype of our turnip or globular beets.
Another form is the flat-bottomed red, of which the Egyptian and the Bassano of Vilmorin, as figured, may be taken as the type. The Bassano was to be found in all the markets of Italy in 1841, and the Egyptian was a new sort about Boston in 1869. Nothing is known concerning the history of this type.
The first appearance of the improved beet is recorded in Germany about 1558 and in England about 1576, but the name used, Roman beet, implies introduction from Italy, where the half-long type was known in 1584. We may believe Ruellius's reference in 1536 to be for France. In 1631, this beet was in French gardens under the name, Beta rubra pastinaca, and the culture of "betteraves" was described in Le Jardinier Solitaire, 1612. Gerarde mentions the "Romaine beete" but gives no figure. In 1665, in England, only the Red Roman was listed by Lovell, and the Red beet was the only kind noticed by Townsend, a seedsman, in 1726, and a second sort, the common Long Red, is mentioned in addition by Mawe, 1778, and by Bryant, 1783. In the United States, one kind only was in McMahon's catalog of 1806 — the Red beet, but in 1828 four kinds are offered for sale by Thorbum. At present, Vilmorin describes seventeen varieties and names and partly describes many others.
Chard was the beta of the ancients and of the Middle Ages. Red chard was noticed by Aristotle about 350 B. C. Theophrastus knew two kinds—the white, called Sicula, and the black (or dark green), the most esteemed. Dioscorides also records two kinds. Eudemus, quoted by Athenaeus, in the second century, names four; the sessile, the white, the common and the dark, or swarthy. Among the Romans, chard finds frequent mention, as by Columella, Pliny, Palladius and Apicius. In China is was noticed in writings of the seventh, eighth, fourteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; in Europe, by all the ancient herbalists.
Chard has no Sanscrit name. The ancient Greeks called the species teutlion; the Romans, beta; the Arabs, seig; the Nabateans, silq. Albertus Magnus, in the thirteenth century, uses the word acelga, the present name in Portugal and Spain.
The wild form is found in the Canary Isles, the whole of the Mediterranean region as far as the Caspian, Persia and Babylon, perhaps even in western India, as also about the sea-coasts of Britain. It has been sparingly introduced, into kitchen-gardens for use as a chard. The red, white, and yellow forms are named from quite early times; the red by Aristotle, the white and dark green by Theophrastus and Dioscorides. In 1596, Bauhin describes dark, red, white, yellow, chards with a broad stalk and the sea-beet. These forms, while the types can be recognized, yet have changed their appearance in our cultivated plants, a greater compactness and development being noted as arising from the selection and cultivation which has been so generally accorded in recent times. Among the varieties Vilmorin describes are the White, Swiss, Silver, Curled Swiss, and Chilian.
The leaves of the sea beet form an excellent chard and in Ireland are collected from the wild plant and used for food; in England the plant is sometimes cultivated in gardens. This form has been ennobled by careful culture, continued until a mangold was obtained.
Swiss chard is deemed by Ray to have been known to Gerarde, 1597, for Gerarde, in his Herball, indicates the sportive character of the seed as to color and mentions a height which is attained only by this plant. He says of it, "another sort hereof that was brought unto me from beyond the seas," and particularly notices the great breadth of the stalk; but the color particularly noticed is the red sort. Ray gives as a synonym Beta italica Parkinson. Swiss chard is quite variable in the stalks, according to the culture received.
The silver-leaf beet (Poiree blonde a carde blanche Vilm. 1883) is a lighter green form of swiss chard, as described by Vilmorin, but with shorter and much broader stalk. It seems to be a variety within the changes which can be effected by selection and culture and perhaps can be referred to the Chilean type.
The Chilean beet is a form usually grown for ornamental purposes. The stalks are often very broad and twisted and the colors very clear and distinct, the leaf puckered and blistered as in the Curled Swiss. In the Gardeners' Chronicle, 1844, it is said that "these ornamental plants were introduced to Belgium some ten or twelve years previously." It is yellow or red and varies in all the shades of these two colors. In 1651, J. Bauhin speaks of two kinds of chard as novelties: the one, white, with broad ribs; the other, red. He also speaks of a yellow form, differing from the kind with a boxwood-yellow root. In 1655, Lobel describes a chard with yellowish stems, varied with red. The forms now found are described by their names: Crimson-veined Brazilian, Golden-veined Brazilian, Scarlet-ribbed Chilean, Scarlet-veined Brazilian, Yellow-ribbed Chilean and Red-stalked Chilean.
The modern chards are the broad-leaved ones and all must be considered as variables within a type. This type may be considered as the one referred to by Gerarde in 1597, whose "seedes taken from that plant which was altogether of one colour and sowen, doth bring foorth plants of many and variable colours." Our present varieties now come true to color in most instances but some seeds furnish an experience such as that which Gerarde records.
Mangolt was the old German name for chard, or rather for the beet species, but in recent times the mangold is a large-growing root of the beet kind used for forage purposes. In the selections, size and the perfection of the root above ground have been important elements, as well as the desire for novelty, and hence we have a large number of very distinct-appearing sorts: the long red, about two-thirds above ground; the olive-shaped, or oval; the globe; and the flat-bottomed Yellow d'Obendorf. The colors to be noted are red, yellow and white. The size often obtained in single specimens is enormous, a weight of 135 pounds has been, claimed in California, and Gasparin in France vouches for a root weighing 132 pounds.
Very little can be ascertained concerning the history of mangolds. They certainly are of modem introduction. Olivier de Serres, in France, 1629, describes a red beet which was cultivated for cattle-feeding and speaks of it as a recent acquisition from Italy. In England, it is said to have arrived from Metz in 1786; but there is a book advertised of which the following is the title: Culture and Use of the Mangel Wurzel, a Root of Scarcity, translated from the French of the Abbe de Commerell, by J. C. Lettson, with colored plates, third edition, 1787, by which it would appear that it was known earlier. McMahon records the mangold as in American culture in 1806. Vilmorin describes sixteen kinds and mentions many others.
The sugar beet is a selected form from the common beet and scarcely deserves a separate classification. Varieties figured by Vilmorin are all of the type of the half-long red, and agree in being mostly underground and in being very or quite scaly about the collar. The sugar beet has been developed through selection 6f the roots of high sugar content for the seedbearers. The sugar beet industry was born in France in 1811, and in 1826 the product of the crop was 1,500 tons of sugar. The use of the sugar beet could not, then, have preceded 1811; yet in 1824 five varieties, the grosse rouge, petite rouge, rouge ronde, jaune and blanche are noted and the French Sugar, or Amber, reached American gardens before 1828. A richness of from 16 to 18 per cent of sugar is now claimed for Vilmorin's new Improved White Sugar.
The discovery of sugar in the beet is credited to Margraff in 1747, having been announced in a memoir read before the Berlin Academy of Sciences.
A partial synonymy of Beta vulgaris is as follows:
- I. Red Beets.
- Beta rubra. Lob. 124. 1576; Icon. 1:248. 1591; Matth. 371. 1598.
- B. rubra Romana. Dod. 620. 1616.
- Common Long Red. Mawe. 1778.
- Betterave rouge grosse. Vilm. 38. 1883.
- Long Blood. Thorb. 1828, i886.
- Beta rubra. Cam. Epit. 256. 1586; Lugd. 535. 1587; Pancov. n. 607. 1673.
- Betiola rossa. Durc. 71. 1617.
- Betterave rouge naine. Vilm. 37. 1883.
- Pineapple beet.
- Beta erythorrhizos Dodo. Lugd. 533. 1587.
- Beta rubra radice crassa, alia species. Bauh. J. 2:961. 1651.
- B. rubra . . . russa; Beta-rapa. Chabr. 303. 1677.
- Turnip-pointed red. Mawe. 1778.
- Turnip-rooted red. Bryant 26. 1783.
- Early Blood Turnip. Thorb. 1828, i886.
- IV. Yellow Beets.
- Beta quarto radice buxea. Caesalp. 1603 from Mill. Diet. 1807.
- Yellow-rooted. Mill. Diet. 1807.
- Betterave jaune grosse. Vilm. 41. 1883.
- Beta rubra, lutea; Beta-rapa. Chabr. 305. 1677.
- Turnip-pointed yellow. Mawe. 1778.
- Yellow Turnip. Thorb. 1828.
- Betterave jaune ronde sucre. Vilm. 41. 1883.
- VI. Sea Beet.
- Beta sylvestris spontanea marina. Lob.Obs.125. 1576.
- B. sylvestris maritima. Bauh. Phytopin. 191. 1596.
- Sea Beet. Ray Hist. l :204. 1686.
- VII. White Beet.
- Beta alba lactucaeand rumicis folio, etc. Advers. 93. 1570.
- B. alba vel pallescens, quawi Cicia officin. Bauh. Pin. n8. 1623.
- White Beet. Ray 204. 1686.
- Beta cicla. Linn. Sp. 322. 1774.
- Common White-Leaved. Mawe. 1778.
- White-leaved. McMahon 187. 1806.
- Spinach-Beet. Loudon. 1860.
- Poiree blonde ou commune. Vilm. 421. 1883.
- VIII. Swiss Chard.
- Beta alba? 3. Gerarde 251. 1597.
- The Sicilian Broad-Leaved Beet. Ray 205. 1686.
- White Beet. Townsend. 1726.
- Chard, or Great White Swiss Beet. Mawe. 1778.
- Swiss, or Chard Beet. Mill. Diet. 1807.
- Swiss Chard, or Silver Beet. Buist. 1851.
- Silver-Leaf Beet. Burr 292. 1863.
- Poiree a carde blanche. Vilm. 421. 1883.
- IX. Silver-Leaf Beet.
- Poiree blonde a carde blanche. Vilm. 1883.
- X. Curled Swiss Chard.
- Curled-Leaf Beet. Burr 291. 1863.
- Beck's Seakale Beet. Card. Chron. 1865.
- Poiree a blanche frises. Vilm. 1883.
Sturtevant's Edible Plants of the World, 1919, was edited by U. P. Hedrick.