The Evolution of Cruciferous Vegetables from Carnivorous Plants


Broccoli was Once a Carnivorous Plant

Unknown to most, except for small children who have no problems pulling vegetables out of their mouths and spitting them on the floor, Broccoli, as well as all cruciferous vegetables, were once carnivorous plants.

While the cruciferous vegetables have lost their carnivorous tendencies, they all have bitter flavors to keep them out of our mouths.

There are several ways to look into the history of cruciferous vegetables.

Each cruciferous vegetable had a different technique to trap prey. For instance, broccoli produced a sweet, sticky substance from the flowering heads of each stalk. Insects would land on to collect the sweet nectar and get trapped in the glue like substance. The insect would then fall within the florets and be digested.

Cauliflower exhibited a similar technique for trapping prey.

Brussel Sprouts were similar to both cabbage and broccoli, however, ancient brussel sprouts were known to grow to greater heights. As with any life form, the way to survive is to find a way to be better than the competition. Ancient brussel sprouts did this by growing to a great height, up to six feet tall it is estimated. This height helped the brussel sprout to attract prey even though the flowering heads of the plant was smaller than the related broccoli and cauliflower plants.

Cabbage was unique in how it trapped its prey. In modern cabbage, the leaves of the cabbage head are wrapped tightly around the head of the plant. In ancient cabbage, however, the leafs would “open” in the early morning and the head would emit a sweet smell. Similar to any carnivorous plant, such as the pitcher plant, the ancient cabbage would emit a sweet smell to lure prey. Once the prey entered within the folds of the leaves, the plant would snap shut trapping its prey until digested.

It is unknown at what point the cruciferous vegetables began to evolve into the modern plants known today. It is very likely that this break occurred before the Roman Period in Italy more than 2,000 years ago. It is possible that the last of the carnivorous broccoli plants were destroyed with the eruption of Pompeii in 79 A.D. and, as such, very little is known about the evolution of this family of plants and their strange evolution.


Broccoli - Close Up - I grabbed this from Flickr: