All in the plant family: vegetable classification and cultivation


All plants belong to the Plante Kingdom. They are further classified by division, class, order, family, genus and species. Scientists use formal names to identify plant families. Most gardeners call plant families by their common names.

Vegetable plants in the same family have similar characteristics, including growth habits and nutrient requirements. Familiarity with plant families gives gardeners keen insight to plants’ unique needs and problems. Gardeners can use their knowledge of plant classification to make informed decisions about crop rotations and how to best manage soil fertility. An example is rotating heavy-feeding members of the Brassicaceae family with nitrogen-fixing Fabaceaes to replenish spent soil.

Diseases and pests often infect an entire family of plants. Planting members of the same family side-by-side encourages the spread of bacteria and pests. Keep plants healthy and aphids and nematodes at bay by planting members of the same family as far apart as possible, or utilizing the companion technique of planting herbs and flowers like chives and marigolds between rows.

Understanding plant classification is particularly beneficial for gardeners who save seeds and breed plants. Unwanted cross-pollination within a family produces interesting looking and bad tasting cucumber/melon and gourd/zucchini combos. Plant members of the same family a safe isolation distance from one another or use hand-pollination techniques to prevent unwanted cross-pollination.

Scientific name: Amaryllidaceae

Common name: Aamaryllis family

Onions, leeks, chives, garlic, shallots

Scientific name: Apiaceae

Common name: Carrot family

Carrot, parsnip, celery, fennel, parsley, celeriac

Scientific name: Asteraceae

Common name: Sunflower family

Endive, artichoke, lettuce, celtuce, sunflower, salsify, dandelion, chicory, radicchio

Scientific name: Brassicaceae

Common name: Mustard family

Broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard, horseradish, kale, kohlrabi, radish, rutabaga, turnip, watercress

Scientific name: Chenopodiaceae

Common name: Goosefoot family

Beet, chard, spinach, amaranth, quinoa

Scientific name: Cucurbitaceae

Common name: Gourd family

Cucumber, melon, pumpkin, squash, watermelon, summer squash, zucchini, gourd

Scientific name: Fabaceae

Common name: Pea family

Bean, Peanut, Pea, lentil, soybean, alfalfa, cowpea

Scientific name: Pocaceae

Common name: Grass family

Corn, millet, rice, barley, wheat, rye, oats, sorghum

Scientific name: Polygonaceae

Common name: Knotweed family

Buckwheat, rhubarb

Scientific name: Solanaceae

Common name: Nightshade family

Eggplant, pepper, potato, tomato, tomatillo, tobacco


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