Brassica campestris.

Related entries: Brassica - Brassica oleracea

Brassica campestris Linn. Turnip. Rape. Rutabaga. Turnip.

The turnip, says Unger, is derived from a species growing wild at the present day in Russia and Siberia as well as on the Scandinavian peninsula. From this, in course of cultivation, a race has been produced as B. campestris Linn., and a second as B. rapa Linn., our white turnip, with many varieties. The cultivation of this plant, indigenous in the region between the Baltic Sea and the Caucasus, was probably first attempted by the Celts and Germans when they were driven to make use of nutritious roots. Buckman was inclined to the belief that B. campestris and B. napus are but agrarian forms derived from B. oleracea. Nowhere, he asserted, are the first two varieties truly wild but both track cultivation throughout Europe, Asia and America. Lindley says this plant, B. campestris, has been found apparently wild in Lapland, Spain, the Crimea and Great Britain but it is difficult to say whether or not it is truly wild. When little changed by cultivation, it is the colsa, colza, or colsat, the chou oleifere of the French, an oil-reed plant of great value. This is the colsa of Belgium, the east of France, Germany and Switzerland but not of other districts, in which the name is applied to rape. Unger states that this plant, growing wild from the Baltic Sea to the Caucasus, is the B. campestris oleifera DC. or B. colza Lam. and that its culture, first starting in Belgium, is now extensively carried on in Holstein. De Candolle supposes the Swedish turnip is a variety, analogous to the kohlrabi among cabbages, but with the root swollen instead of the stem. In its original wild condition, it is a flatfish, globular root, with a very fine tail, a narrow neck and a hard, deep yellow flesh. Buckman, by seeding rape and common turnips in mixed rows, secured, through hybridization, a small percentage of malformed swedes, which were greatly improved by careful cultivation. If Bentham was correct in classing B. napus with B. campestris, the result of Buckman's experiment does not carry the rutabaga outside of B. campestris for its origin. Don classifies the rutabaga as B. campestris Linn. var. oleifera, sub. var. rutabaga.

The turnip is of ancient culture. Columella, A. D. 42, says the napus and the rapa are both grown for the use of man and beast, especially in France; the former does not have a swollen but a slender root, and the latter is the larger and greener. He also speaks of the Mursian gongylis, which may be the round turnip, as being especially fine. The distinction between the napus and the rapa was not always held, as Pliny uses the word napus generically and says that there are five kinds, the Corinthian, Cleonaeum, Liothasium, Boeoticum and the Green. The Corinthian, the largest, with an almost bare root, grows on the surface and not, as do the rest, under the soil. The Liothasium, also called Thracium, is the hardest. The Boeoticum is sweet, of a notable roundness and not very long as is the Cleonaeum. At Rome, the Amitemian is in most esteem, next the Nursian, and third our own kind (the green?). In another place, under rapa, he mentions the broad-bottom (flat?), the globular, and as the most esteemed, those of Nursia. The napus of Amiternum, of a nature quite similar to the rapa, succeeds best in a cool place. He mentions that the rapa sometimes attains a weight of forty pounds. This weight has, however, been exceeded in, modem times. Matthiolus, 1558, had heard of turnips that weighed a hundred pounds and speaks of having seen long and purple sorts that weighed thirty pounds. Amatus Lusitanus, 1524, speaks of turnips, weighing fifty and sixty pounds. In England, in 1792, Martyn says the greatest weight that he is acquainted with is thirty-six pounds. In California, about 1830, a turnip is recorded of one hundred pounds weight.

In the fifteenth century, Booth says the turnip had become known to the Flemings and formed one of their principal crops. The first turnips that were introduced into England, he says, are believed to have come from Holland in 1550. In the time of Henry VIII (1509-1547) according to McIntosh, turnips were used baked or roasted in the ashes and the young shoots were used as a salad and as a spinach. Gerarde describes them in a number of varieties, but the first notice of their field culture is by Weston in 1645. Worlidge, 1668, mentions the turnip fly as an enemy of turnips and Houghton speaks of turnips as food for sheep in 1684. In 1686, Ray says they are sown everywhere in fields and gardens. In 1681, Worlidge says they are chiefly grown in gardens but are also grown to some extent in fields. The turnip was brought to America at a very early period. In 1540, Cartier sowed turnip seed in Canada, during his third voyage. They were also cultivated in Virginia in 1609; are mentioned again in 1648; and by Jefferson in 1781. They are said by Francis Higginson n to be in cultivation in Massachusetts in 1629 and are again mentioned by William Wood, 1629-33. They were plentiful about Philadelphia in 1707. Jared Sparks planted them in Connecticut in 1747. In 1775, Romans in his Natural History of Florida mentions them. They are also mentioned in South Carolina in 1779. In 1779, General Sullivan destroyed the turnips in the Indian fields at the present Geneva, New York, in the course of his invasion of the Indian country. The common flat turnip was raised as a field crop in Massachusetts and New York as early as 1817.

Navet, or French Turnip. (B. napus esculenta DC.)

This turnip differs from the Brassica rapa oblonga DC. by its smooth and glaucous leaves. It surpasses other turnips by the sweetness of its flavor and furnishes white, yellow and black varieties. It is known as the Navet, or French turnip. This was apparently the napa of Columella. This turnip was certainly known to the early botanists, yet its synonymy is difficult to be traced from the figures. However, the following are correct:

Napus. Trag. 730. 1552; Matth. 240. 1664; Pin. 144. 1561; Cam. Epit. 222. 1586; Dod. 674. 1616; Fischer 1646.
Bunias sive napus. Lob. Icon. 1 :200. 1591.
Bunias silvestris lobelii. Ger. 181. 1597.
Napi. Dur. C. 304. 1617.
Bunias. Bodaeus 733. 1644.
Napus dulcis. Blackw. t. 410. 1765.
Navet petit de Berlin. Vilm. 360. 1883.
Teltow turnip. Vilm. 580. 1885.

The navets are mentioned as under cultivation in England by Worlidge, 1683; as the French turnip by Wheeler, 1763, and in Miller's Dictionary, 1807. Gasparin says the navet de Berlin, which often acquires a great size, is much grown in Alsace and in Germany. It is grown in China, according to Bretschneider. This turnip was known in the fifth century.

The Common Flat Turnip. (B. rapa depressa DC.)

This turnip has a large root expanding under the origin of the stem into a think, round, fleshy tuber, flattened at the top and bottom. It has white, yellow, black, red or purple and green varieties. It seems to have been known from ancient times and is described and figured by the earlier botanists. The synonymy is as follows:

A. Flattened both above and below.
Rapum. Matth. 240. 1554; Cam. Epit. 218. 1586.
Rapum sive rapa. Pin. 143. 1561.
Rapa. Dur. ?.386. 1617.
Navet turnip. Vilm. 583. 1883.
B. Flattened, but pointed below.
Orbiculatum seu turbinatum rapum. Lob. Icon. I :197. 1791
Rapum. Porta, Phytognom. 120. 1591.
Rapum vulgare. Dod. 673. 16i6.
Rave d'Auvergne tardive. Vilm.
C. Globular.
Rapum. Trag. 728. 1552.
Rapa, La Rave. Tourn. 113. 1719.
Navet jaune d'Hollande. Vilm. 370. 1883.
Yellow Dutch. Vilm. 588. 1885.

The Long Turnip. (B. rapa oblonga DC.)

This race of turnip differs from the preceding in having a long or oblong tuber tapering to the radicle. It seems an ancient form, perhaps the Cleonaeum of Pliny.

Vulgare rapum alterum. Trag. 729. 1532.
Rapum longum. Cam. Epit. 219. 1586.
Rapum tereti, rotunda, oblongaque radici. Lob. Icon. 1: 197. 1591.
Rapum oblongius. Dod. 673. 1616.
Rapum sativum rotundum et oblongum. Bauh. J. 2:838. 1651.
Rapa. La Rave. Tourn. 113. 1719.
Navet de Briollay. Vilm. 372. 1883.

This account by no means embraces all the turnips now known, as it deals with form only and not with color and habits. In 1828, 13 kinds were in Thorburn's American Seed Catalog and in 1887, 33 kinds. In France, 12 kinds were named by Pirolle in 1824 and by Petit in 1826. In 1887, Vilmorin's Wholesale Seed-list enumerates 31 kinds.


Bentham classes rape with B. campestris Linn. and others are disposed to include it as an agrarian form of B. oleracea Linn. Darwin says B. napus Linn., in which he places rape, "has given rise to two large groups, namely Swedish turnips (by some believed to be of hybrid origin) and colzas, the seeds of which yield oil." It can be believed quite rationally that the Swedish turnip may have originated in its varieties from B. campestris and from hybridization with B. napus. To this species, Lindley refers some of the rapes, or coles, the navette, navette d'hiver, or rabette of the French, and the repo, ruhen or winter reps of the Germans, while the summer rapes he refers to B. praecox. Rape is used as an oil plant but is inferior to colza. It is also used in a young state as a salad plant. Of this species there is also a fleshy-rooted variety, the Teltow turnip, or navet de Berlin petit of the French, the root long and spindle-shaped, somewhat resembling a carrot. Its culture in England dates from 1790 but it was well known in 1671 and is noticed by Caspar Bauhin in his Pinax. It is much more delicate in flavor than our common turnip. In Prance and Germany, this Teltow turnip is extensively cultivated. To what extent our common turnips are indebted to the rapes, seems impossible to say, for Metzger, by culture, converted the biennial, or winter rape, into the annual, or summer rape, varieties which Lindley believes to be specifically distinct. The Bon Jardinier says, in general, the early turnips of round form and growing above ground belong to B. napus and names the Yellow Malta, Yellow Finland and Montmaquy of our catalogs.

Summer rape is referred by Lindley to B. praecox Waldst. & Kit. In the east of France, it is called navette d'ete, or navette de mai and by the Germans summer reps. Some botanists refer summer rape to B. campestris Linn. and winter rape to B. napus Linn. Rape is also referred to B. rapa Linn. The evidence is unusually clear, says Darwin, that rape and the turnip belong to the same species, for the turnip has been observed by Koch and Godron to lose its thick roots in uncultivated soil and when rape and turnips are sown together they cross to such a degree that scarcely a single plant comes true. Summer rape seems to be grown to a far less extent than winter rape.


The rutabaga of the Swedes, the navel de Suede, or chou de Suede, or chou rutabaga, or chou navel jaune, of the French was introduced into England somewhere about the end of the eighteenth century. In the Maine Farmer of May 15, 1835, a correspondent, John Burston, states that the rutabaga, Swedish turnip, or Lapland turnip — for by all these names was it known — was introduced to this country since the commencement of the present century. Six or more varieties are named in all seed catalogs and Burr describes 11 kinds.

The rutabagas of our gardens include two forms, one with white flesh, the other with yellow. The French call these two classes chou-navets and rutabagas respectively. The chou-navet, or Brassica napo-brassica communis DC., has either purple or white roots; the rutabaga, or B. napo-brassica Rutabaga A. P. DC., has a more regular root, round or oval, yellow both without and within. In English nomenclature, while now the two forms are called by a common name, yet formerly the first constituted the turnip-rooted cabbage. In 1806, the distinction was retained in the United States, McMahon describing the turnip-rooted cabbage and the Swedish turnip, or Rutabaga. As a matter of convenience we shall describe these two classes separately.

The first description of the white-rooted form is by Bauhin in his Prodromus, 1620, and it is named again in his Pinax, 1623, and is called napo-brassica. In 1686, Ray apparently did not know it in England, as he quotes Bauhin's name and description, which states that it is cultivated in Bohemia and is eaten, but Morison, in 1669, catalogs it among the plants in the royal gardens. In France, it is named by Tournefort, in 1700, Brassica radice napiformi, or chou-navet. In 1778, this was called in England turnip-cabbage with the turnip underground and in the United States, in 1806, turnip-rooted cabbage, as noted above. There are three varieties described by Vilmorin under the names chou-navet, chou turnip, and chou de Lapland, one of which is purple at the collar; apparently these same varieties are named by Noisette in 1829. The white and the red-collared were named by Pirolle, in 1824. This class, as Don says in 1831, is little known in English gardens, though not uncommon in French horticulture.

The rutabaga is said by Sinclair, in the account of the system of husbandry in Scotland, to have been introduced into Scotland about 1781-2, and a quotation in the Gardeners' Chronicle says it was introduced into England in 1790. It is mentioned in 1806 by McMahon as in American gardens, and in 1817 there is a record of an acre of this crop in Illinois. The vernacular names all indicate an origin in Sweden or northern Europe. It is called Swedish turnip or Roota-baga by McMahon, 1806, by Miller's Dictionary, 1807, by Cobbett, 1821, and by other authors to the present time. De Candolle, 1821, calls it navet jaune, navet de Suede, chou de Laponie, and chou de Suede; Pirolle, in 1824, Ruta-baga or chou navet de Suede, as does Noisette in 1829. In 1821 Thorbum calls it Ruta-baga, or Russian turnip, and a newspaper writer in 1835 calls it Ruta-baga, Swedish turnip and Lapland turnip. The foreign names given by Don in 1831 include many of the above named and the Italian navone di Laponia. Vilmorin in his Les Plantes Potageres, 1883, describes three varieties: one with a green collar, one with a purple collar and a third which is early.

Sturtevant's Edible Plants of the World, 1919, was edited by U. P. Hedrick.