In 2017 the community agreed for the central beds of the greenhouse to be used for an botanical exhibit of 8 plant families, rather than entirely for food production. The display opened in Spring 2018 and has been in place and used as a teaching tool for three growing seasons so far.
A large part of the study of plants is concerned with the range and diversity of plants and the evolutionary relationships between them. Botanists group plants into groups which are typically treated at a given taxonomic rank, such as genus or species. Angiosperms are the group of plants most often associated with the term ‘plant’; these are flowering plants of which there are 300,000 known species which can be daunting to the human mind. Given that there are around a mere 420 of them, and that they are more stable than lower taxonomic ranks, the level of plant family is a useful one to become familiar with when starting to study botany.
The hierarchy of biological classification is composed of eight major taxonomic ranks. As an example, the species of plant known as the edible potato is Solanum tuberosum. It is in the order Solanales; the family Solanaceae; and the genus Solanum.
With an integration of horticulture and botany, eight plants families represented in the greenhouse are those containing the most important species of food crop in the Western World. These were all already well represented in the vegetable garden at Braziers and were joined by other members of the family grown for their ornamental value as well as those native or naturalised in the UK. This allows a variety of plants from families we most rely on to grow next to one another as a way to highlight shared key features of the family and help to develop identification skills and a better understanding of plant taxonomy. The central beds of the greenhouse used for the plant family display are systematically planted according to the diagram below.
The eight plant families are listed below. Descriptions of distinctive features often use specialist botanical terminology which may require some extra research or instruction. Braziers may consider running Introduction to Plant Identification and Taxonomy courses in the future.
Amaranthaceae / Amaranth family
(c.174 genera, 2,050 species)
A family of mostly herbs and sub-shrubs, distributed nearly worldwide. A number of species, including spinach, beets and quinoa, are important food crops, grown for their leaves, swollen stems and pseudo-grains, respectively. Several are cultivated as garden ornamentals and several are detrimental weeds.
Culinary: Beetroot, Chard/leaf beet, Sugarbeet (Beta vulgaris varieties), Spinach (Spinacia oleracea), Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa)
Ornamental: Love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus) Red/purple Amaranth (Amaranthus cruentus) Variegated amaranth (Amaranthus tricolor ‘Jacob’s Coat’)
Native/Naturalised: Lamb’s quarters/Fat-hen (Chenopodium album)
Distinctive features: leaves are simple, spirally arranged or opposite. Stems are often striated. The inflorescence usually consists of solitary flowers or a spike. Flowers are typically very small, and frequently prickly due to bracts and bristle-like bracteoles. Petals and sepals usually occur in 3s or 5s. Fruit is a nutlet, berry or irregularly dehiscing capsule.
Rosaceae / Rose family
(95 genera, 2,800 species)
A family of trees, shrubs, or (mostly perennial) herbs, distributed mostly worldwide, but more concentrated in north temperate regions. The family is very important as the source of many cultivated fruits, (including strawberry, apple, almond, apricot, cherry, peach, plum, pear, quince, blackberry and raspberry) and numerous ornamental cultivars, such as Cotoneaster, Photinia, Prunus, Pyracantha, Rosa (roses), and Spiraea.
Culinary: Apple (Malus pumila), Raspberry (Rubus idaeus), Tayberry (Rubus fructicosus x R. Idaeus), Strawberry (Fragaria × ananassa)
Ornamental: Roses (Rosa spp.), Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis)
Native/Naturalised: Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), Bird cherry (Prunus padus), Wild cherry (Prunus avium), Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria), Wood avens (Geum urbanum), Blackberry (Rubus fructicosus agg.).
Distinctive features: leaves are arranged spirally (rarely opposite), are simple or compound and the margins are most often serrate. Paired stipules are generally present, and are a primitive feature within the family. The inflorescence is variable. Flowers are usually described as “showy“, are generally pentamerous (with five petals and sepals and many spirally arranged stamens. Fruit is variable.
Apiaceae / Carrot family
(446 genera, 3,540 species)
A family mostly of herbs, with a worldwide distribution and economic importance as food, herb and spice plants. Some species are poisonous, such as hemlocks; others are used as ornamental cultivars.
Culinary: Carrot (Daucus carota ssp. Sativus), Parsley (Petroselinum crispum), Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa), Celery, Celeriac (Apium graveolens), Fennel, Florence fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
Native/Naturalised: Sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata), Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium), Cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris), Ground elder (Aegopodium podagraria)
Distinctive features: leaves are usually compound (pinnate, ternate, or decompound), spirally arranged, with a broad sheathing base. The inflorescence is usually a compound umbel often with subtending involucral bracts. Flowers are small, with 5 petals and/or sepals. Fruit is a schizocarp of mericarps.
Asteraceae / Sunflower Family
(1,528 genera, 22,750 species)
This is the largest plant family, with worldwide distribution and variable, consisting of herbs, shrubs, trees, and vines. It is economically important containing both food crops and a wide range of ornamental cultivars.
Culinary: Lettuce (Lactuca sativa), Sunflower (Helianthus annuus), Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus), Globe artichokes (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus), Chicory (Cichorium intybus)
Ornamental: Pot marigold (Calendula officinalis), Cone flower (Echinacea purpurea), Globe thistle (Echinops spp.), Cotton thistle (Onopordum acanthium)
Native/Naturalised: Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), Greater burdock (Arctium lappa), Spear thistle (Cirsium vulgare), Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium), Ragwort (Senecio jacobea), Daisy (Bellis perennis), Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)
Distinctive features: leaves are simple or compound, spiral or opposite, exstipulate. Inflorescence has one or more heads (capitula) arranged in various secondary inflorescences, each head consisting of a flat to conical compound receptacle that bears one to many flowers (developing centripetally) and is subtended by one or more series of bracts. Ray florets present.
Brassicaceae / Mustard family
(365 genera, 3,250 species)
A family of herbs, rarely shrubs, with worldwide distribution. Economically important due to numerous vegetable plants (notably the crucifers or mustard plants), plus numerous cultivated ornamentals and dye plants (e.g. woad).
Culinary: Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Cauliflower, Cabbage, Kale, Kohl-rabi (all cultivars of Brassica oleracea), Mustard (Brassica nigra), Turnip (Brassica rapa), Rapeseed (Brassica napus), Radish (Raphanus raphanistrum subsp. Sativus), Rocket (Eruca sativa)
Ornamental: Annual Honesty (Lunaria annua) Sweet rocket (Hesperis matronalis), Wallflower (Erysimum ‘Red Jep’)
Native/Naturalised: Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana), Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), Land cress (Barbarea verna), Hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta)
Distinctive features: leaves are simple, often lobed to divided, spirally arranged and exstipulate. Inflorescence is usually a raceme, rarely of solitary or axillary flowers. Flowers usually have 4 petals. Fruit is silique or silicle. Plants are strong smelling due to mustard oil glucosides.
Cucurbitaceae / Gourd family
(120 genera, 775 species)
A family of vines, usually with one tendril per node with worldwide distribution, but occurring mostly in tropical regions. It is economic importance as food crops. The dried fruits of several species are used as gourds, those of Luffa are used as a sponge.
Culinary: Squash, pumpkin, courgette (all varieties of Cucurbita pepo), Cucumber (Cucumis sativus), Water melon (Citrullus lanatus)
Native/Naturalised: White/red bryony (Bryonia dioica)
Distinctive features: leaves are simple, palmately veined and often palmately lobed, spirally arranged, and exstipulate. Inflorescence is axillary, often with solitary flowers. Flowers usually have 5 petals.
Fabaceae / Pea or Bean family
(643 genera, 18,000 species)
A very large family of herbs, shrubs, trees, or vines, with a worldwide distribution. Members of the family are dominant species in some ecosystems (e.g., Acacia spp. in parts of Africa and Australia). One of the most economically important plant groups, being the source of numerous pulses (such as peanut, soybeans, lentils, beans and peas); fodder and soil rotation plants (such as alfalfa and clovers), oils, timber trees, gums, dyes, and insecticides.
Culinary: Broad bean (Vicia faba), Green bean (Phaseolus vulgaris), Runner bean (Phaseolus coccineus), Garden pea (Pisum sativum)
Ornamental: Laburnum (Laburnum anagyroides), Perennial pea (Lathyrus latifolius), Black locust tree (Robinia pseudoacacia), Lupin (Lupinus spp.)
Native/Naturalised: Common gorse (Ulex europaeus), Red clover (Trifolium pratense), White clover (Trifolium repens), Bush vetch (Vicia sepium)
Distinctive features: leaves are usually compound and spirally arranged. Spines are sometimes present. The roots of many species have a symbiotic association with nitrogen-fixing bacteria (Rhizobium spp.). Flowers are usually zygomorphic, with petals/sepals usually in 5s. Fruit is generally a legume.
Solanaceae / Nightshade family
(94 genera, 2,950 species)
A family of herbs, shrubs, trees, or lianas, distributed mostly worldwide, concentrated in South America. Many are edible plants. Alkaloids from various taxa have medicinal or hallucinogenic properties, or are deadly poisons or known carcinogens; some are used as ornamental cultivars, others are noxious weeds.
Culinary: Tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum), Cape gooseberry (Physalis peruviana), Aubergine (Solanum melongena), Potato (Solanum tuberosum), Chili & Bell peppers (Capsicum spp.)
Ornamental: Solanum (Solanum jasminioides ‘Aureovariegatum’), Chinese lantern (Physalis alkekengi), Tobacco plant (Nicotiana spp.)
Native/Naturalised: Thorn-apple (Datura stramonium), Black nightshade (Solanum nigrum), Deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna), Bittersweet/Woody nightshade (Solanum dulcamara)
Distinctive features: leaves are simple, pinnate, or ternate and usually spirally arranged. Prickles are present in some taxa, many with stellate trichomes. Inflorescence is a solitary flower or cyme unit. Flowers often consist of 5 fused petals. Fruit is a berry, drupe, or capsule (often septicidal).