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The word "cabbage" is an Anglicized form of the French caboche, meaning "head."

Thousands of years ago the cabbage was a useless plant with showy yellow flowers and frilled leaves that grew along the seacoast in different parts of Europe. When and how it came to be domesticated is unknown, but more than 150 varieties of cultivated plants have been developed from the original wild plant. Some are raised as ornamental plants, some as food for humans, and some as fodder for animals. The best-known kinds are common cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, and kohlrabi. The differences among these plants are in habits of growth and in their forms and flavor.

wild cabbage plant

Kinds of Cabbage

There are three kinds of cabbage, white, red, and savoy. In the common cabbage there is one central bud and the leaves grow close together about it, fold over it, and form a large, solid head. Red and white cabbages have smooth leaves; the savoy cabbages have green, wrinkled leaves. Fresh white cabbage is eaten raw in salads or cooked as a vegetable. Red cabbage is a favorite for pickling, and savoy cabbage is usually cooked before being served.

common white cabbage

red cabbage


Cabbage grown commercially under normal conditions is a biennial. Farmers grow the plants one year and leave them in the ground during winter. In the spring the plants produce seed. Sometimes cabbage plants that have been subjected to cool weather (50 to 55 F.) produce seeds rather than marketable heads. In warmer weather, about 60 to 70 F., cabbage plants produce heads.

In regions with a mild climate, most farmers prefer to plant the seed directly in the field. They sow the seed in rows about 3 feet apart. When the young plants grow, workers thin the rows to allow a space of about 18 to 24 inches between the plants. In regions with short growing seasons, farmers may start the seeds in a greenhouse or hotbed. They plant the seeds in small, shallow boxes called flats. Shortly after the plants sprout, workers transplant them to larger flats, spacing them 2 inches apart. The plants grow for another 8 to 10 weeks, then workers transplant them to the field. However, each plant must re-establish itself every time it is transplanted, so growth is retarded. Therefore, most farmers, particularly those in mild climates, seed cabbage directly in the field.

Native to England and northwestern France, cabbage is grown throughout Europe, Asia, and America. Wisconsin produces more cabbage for processing than any other state in the U.S., while Florida is the leading state for winter and spring production of fresh market cabbage.

Insects and Diseases

The most serious diseases which attack cabbages are clubroot and black rot. These can be controlled by alternating cabbages with other crops. The cabbage worm, which develops into the small white cabbage butterfly, can controlled by insecticides.

Scientific Classification

family Cruciferae (mustards)
genus & species Brassica oleracea capitata

See Also

Brussels Sprouts

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The Robinson Library >> Vegetables

This page was last updated on 08/11/2018.