Cutting the Mustard, err, Cabbage

In the California chaparral is an invasive plant that is spectacular when it blooms — Black mustard. It (apparently) came with the Spanish fathers who must have brought it with them from Spain and from Spain to Mexico and from Mexico? Anyway, looking it up this morning (“Go look it up!!!”) I found this amazing story/conjecture:

Some suggest the Franciscan padres specifically planted mustard as a marker for El Camino Real—the road that connects the California missions—throwing out seeds between the missions to create a yellow-seed road. But it’s hard to verify.

“I’ve had some discussions Dan Kreiger, the local mission historian about that, and he, in my understanding, has some evidence that was actually a purposeful introduction, that black mustard was purposefully introduced,” Ritter said. “The problem with the mission era,” Ritter said, “is there was very little written about plants, at the time.”

So we know mustard first arrived in California in the late 1700’s. And that time period was a big deal for Californian plants. It marked the arrival of the first invasive species.

“In 1769, the padres cross the Tijuana River estuary and come north, and start to set up missions,” Ritter said. “At that time they brought plants from Europe with them. So in California, that date is important in the fact that we consider everything that was here in California before that to be native, and everything that was brought in is now growing and reproducing on its own afterward to be non-native.”

It grows taller than I am and, growing on two sides of a trail, it formed a spectacular corridor to walk through in spring with my dogs.

Wikipedia tells me that it’s thought to be the mustard Jesus talked about in the parable of the mustard seed and considering how far that plant species has traveled, that is a LOT of faith.

At “my” nature park the Asian immigrants hurried out to get it while the leaves were young and the flowers blooming to eat as a vegetable. One of the coolest things I’ve learned this morning in “looking this up” is this “Despite their similar common names, black mustard and white mustard (genus Sinapis) are not closely related. Black mustard belongs to the same genus as cabbage and turnips.”

Seeing the Cambodian immigrants harvesting this plant, I saw how much it looked like the green vegetable that was ALWAYS on the table in Guangzhou (you chai). Stupid me. I never tried it to find out. This morning, still looking stuff up, I find they are related. I could have had fresh green vegetable every night!

The Chinese call many different vegetables “green vegetable,” but this one was IT in Guangzhou. When my Chinese brother came to study at a university in Greeley, CO (talk about culture shock) he was terrified (a little exaggeration) that he wouldn’t be able to find green vegetable. I haven’t asked him how he’s managing for green vegetable in Ontario, Canada but I imagine pretty well as there is a pretty big Chinese population there.

16 thoughts on “Cutting the Mustard, err, Cabbage

  1. Mark Twain knew of what he spoke: ….try the mustard, – a man can’t know what turnips are in perfection without mustard.

  2. How beautiful, MAK! And I needed a break from presentation writing to learn! I’d probably skip through the mustard trail, err cabbage. The faith definitely grew! How cool!!!!

  3. Spanish broom is another yellow flowered invasive that is her to stay. The long straight stiff stems are good for making – you guessed it – brooms. Seems to like the same terrain as yerba santa.

  4. I participated at a county park for a CITO event (cache in trash out) and we were instructed to pull as much of the garlic mustard plant as we could. I think we must have made a pile 6 foot tall and much wider at the base. The park people came by with a back hoe and carted it off to burn it! At least it isn’t kudzu!

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