This section is from the book "The Standard Cyclopedia Of Horticulture Vol2", by L. H. Bailey. See also: Western Garden Book: More than 8,000 Plants - The Right Plants for Your Climate - Tips from Western Garden Experts.
The more or less compact leaf-formed head of Brassica oleracea; also applied, with designations, to related forms of the same species, as Welsh cabbage, tree cabbage. Closely related plants are the kales (Fig. 706), collards, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower. See Brassica.
The Chinese cabbage of this country is a wholly different species from the common cabbages. It does not form a compact and rounded head, but a more or less open and soft mass of leaves, after the manner of Cos lettuce. It is of easy culture, but must be grown in the cool season, for it runs quickly to seed in hot and dry weather.
The culture of the cabbage antedates reliable historical record. Writers of Pliny's time or before refer to variations in growth and character which must have resulted from selections and cultivation for many generations, under conditions very different from those which seem to be the natural habitat of the plant on the comparatively barren chalk cliffs of England, and in similar locations in Europe.
It is indeed hard to realize that the scrawny and somewhat starved-looking plant shown in Fig. 628 (Vol. I) could be the ancestral origin of such corpulent, overfed individuals as are shown in Figs. 701 to 704. Such a change in habit of growth can be accounted for only by the plant's possession of exceptional capacity for using the more abundant food-supply furnished by cultivation for many generations, and the storing of it in a way that makes it available for man's use rather than for the mere perpetuation and multiplication of the parent plants.
The cabbage is classed by botanists as a slow-growing bi-annual, and has three distinct periods of life: First, the more or less rapid growth of leaf and plant. Second, a more or less distinct resting period during which the formation of embryonic blossoms is started. Third, the growth and development of the flower and seed. The cultivated cabbages retain very persistently these distinct growing periods, but have added what might be classed as another, that of head-formation, which is in reality simply a distinct division of the first. This additional head-forming period, although essential to the plant's value as a cultivated vegetable, is not at all necessary for the growth and perpetuation of the plant, which, when it has been held in check by long-continued severe frost or drought, will often revert to the original order of growth and pass directly from the growing to the seeding stages with no attempt at head-formation.
Fig. 701. Conical form of cabbage-Jersey Wakefield.
Fig. 702. Round-headed type of cabbage
Fig. 703. Savoy cabbage.
Fig. 704. A modern cabbage plant in head-Early Flat Dutch
Cultivated cabbage thrives best in a moist and comparatively cool climate, and will not reach its best and rarely a satisfactory or profitable development in a hot dry one, nor where there are likely to be even occasional days of high temperature or hot dry winds. Even if there is abundant moisture in the soil, a few hot dry days, such as corn and tomato plants would delight in, will often not only check but permanently prevent any vigorous or profitable growth. This sensitiveness to over-heat is most pronounced during the second or unnatural period of growth, and the least so during the first. Young plants will often thrive in temperatures in which it would be quite impossible to induce older ones to form a solid head. Excessive heat is quite as injurious, and often more so, than freezing, but the latter is especially injurious to the younger plants, particularly if they are growing rapidly, the older ones being little injured by frost which would kill rapid-growing seedlings. One notable effect of exposure of young plants to severe or long-continued low temperature is that it takes the place of the resting period, and thus cuts out the second or head-forming period, so that the plant, as soon as established in the field, begins to shoot to seed without forming any head.
The degree to which the plant suffers from unfavorable temperature seems to vary not only with different varieties but in different locations. In the Puget Sound country, cabbage plants are often killed by exposure to low temperatures, which those of the same variety and age growing in similar soil and exposure on Long Island would endure with little apparent injury. In the United States, favorable climatic conditions are most likely to occur in succession during the winter, spring and fall months, as one moves northeast along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, or in the West along the coast north from Portland, Oregon, and in isolated sections south of that point. Some of the finest cabbages ever produced in America have been grown at points on the Pacific coast as far south as Los Angeles, California. There are also locations, especially in New York; Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin, near the Great takes, or where smaller but deep inland. lakes, abound, in which cabbage does exceptionally well, but generally, in common with most cruciferous plants, they do better near the sea, in such locations as the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Long Island and Puget Sound regions, than in the interior or on the borders of even very large bodies of fresh water.
As the plant is a native of the temperate zone, and thrives best in it, and cannot long endure high temperatures, one does not think of it as particularly sun-loving; but there are few garden plants to which abundant sunlight is more essential and shade more detrimental than the cabbage. In its native habitat, the plants are found growing alone or in small open groups where they are fully exposed to the sun. Similar conditions are essential to its best development under cultivation so that it can rarely be profitably grown in the shade or in crowded groups or rows, and "shooting to seed" or other failure to form a head is often due to the crowding of the seedlings in the seed-row.