Spring Plant Varieties: What’s in a Name?

Growing a garden isn’t rocket science, but it is a body of knowledge that comes partly from studying up, but also from trial and error, observation and participation. Part of what our Sierra Gardens program does is help take some of the guesswork out of growing fresh, organic vegetables at home.  One of the ways we do this is by providing the right starts and seeds for each season.

Most of us have a sense that Spring is the time to plant veggies that can tolerate with cooler weather, like kale, lettuce and cabbage.  But there are so many individual varieties of each – how do you pick?  Farmers and gardeners choose varieties based on specific qualities that are desirable for their climate, growing conditions and personal preferences. Not all cabbages are created equal! Some are big, some are small, some are red, some are more tender, some are crinkly, some have a shorter maturation time…. the list of possible attributes goes on and on.

I’d like to share more about the varieties of plants that we are providing to our Sierra Gardens participants this month, for those of you in the program and also so others can read along and benefit as well.  All of the starts that we provide are grown by Deena and Robbie at Sweet Roots Farm in Grass Valley.  Like any farmer, they choose varieties based on their experiences and successes, both in the field and with their customers.

But before we jump into varieties, a quick lesson on plant names!

All crops – and all plants, for that matter – have a Latin binomial name. This begins with the genus name, always capitalized, followed by the species name, which is not capitalized.

Let’s use cabbage as an example:

     -The genus is Brassica (all Brassicas are classified under the bigger family name of Brassicaceae, which includes broccoli, kale, cabbage, collards, mustard and more)
     -The species name is oleracea.
     -So Brassica oleracea is Latin binomial (or scientific name) of cabbage.
     -Then, we add to that a variety name, and we have Brassica oleracea var. capitata f. rubra 

Don’t know Latin? The common name of this plant is red express cabbage!

When we refer to plants in our gardens, we generally refer to them by their common name, ie, broccoli, cabbage, kale, or tomato. I may refer to a family of plants like the Brassicas, referring to all of the plants in that family. But for the general purposes, knowing the genus and species may be interesting and fun (at least if you’re a plant geek like me!), but not entirely necessary. However, I do like to keep track of the name of the varieties that I grow. When speaking about a plant I will generally refer to it by its common name and variety, ie:  meadowlark kale, or Chadwick cherry tomato, or red express cabbage.

When labelling plants in my garden or greenhouse I generally write it like this, with the variety in quotations: kale “meadowlark” or tomato “Chadwick cherry.”  I don’t know if this is standard in the botany community, but it is how I was taught, and it works for me.

Keeping track of varieties is fun and interesting, and you will begin to discern the sometimes subtle sometimes not differences between varieties and develop your own favorites.  Below are some varieties of broccoli, cabbage, kale, chard, collars and lettuce to look out for this Spring season.  Check them out below and try out something new this season!

Happy Spring Gardening!

Edy Cassell,

Community Programs Manager

The Belstar broccoli variety is an organic hybrid variety suitable for either spring or summer planting. This variety is very adaptable and produces stress tolerant plants. Not only does it develop a large central head, but the side shoots produce numerous smaller heads.


“Golden Acre”  
Golden Acre is a tasty cabbage that arrives early and is suited for close spacing. This early round head cabbage is easily grown and versatile in use. Heads are about 6 to 7 inches in diameter on compact plants about a foot high. Its firm, medium green head is excellent cooked or raw in stews and salads.

Cabbage ‘Famosa’ is a hybrid savoy cabbage. The savoy cabbage is known for its heavily crinkled leaves and head.

Leaves are thin and juicy with a slight peppery bite, perfect for stir-fries and egg rolls. Small, uniform heads with attractive rosebud wrappers are great for smaller households and pack nicely in boxes. Round heads with a short core hold well in summer heat; habit suitable for dense plantings.

“Red Express” 
Red Express cabbage is aptly named. Sixty-three days to maturity is a sprint in the cabbage world. The 1-1/2 to 2-pound, tightly compact, rock-hard heads of reddish-purple are your reward!

This large 4-5 lb. cabbage is ideal for processing coleslaw. The crisp heads offer a vibrant red and white coloring with a short core.


“Red Russian” 
Red Russian is beautiful, frilly, purple-veined, blue-green leaves are tinged with red-purple and resemble oak leaves. Vigorous plants grow 18-36″ tall. Leaves have a mild, sweet flavor. Hardy to -10°F.

Meadowlark kale is a particularly attractive plant with tall, upright stems and tightly curled leaves. Easier to de-rib than other kale varieties, it also features a sweet flavor and tender texture perfect for salads and cooked dishes.

“Dazzling Blue”
This smoky blue lacinato type kale has become a favorite of gardeners and market farmers. It boasts unparalleled cold hardiness and fantastic purple and blue leaves.

One of the most tender kale varieties; ideal for raw kale salads and soups. Leaves are very dark blue-green and heavily savoyed, sweetening with each frost. Also known as Dinosaur or Tuscan kale.


“Red Rhubarb” 
This Swiss Chard looks almost like rhubarb with its red stalks and green leaves. It has a nice mild flavor, and is less bitter than other swiss chards. And it cooks up beautifully, with deep green leaves and beautiful red stalks and veins.

“Improved Rainbow” 
Striking improved blend of red, pink, white, yellow and gold stems. Upright habit makes for clean production and easy harvesting. Color intensity is not as well defined early on; mostly pink, red and white at baby stage.


Georgia collards, also known as ‘Southern’ collards, is a traditional Southern variety that is heat and cold tolerant and slow to bolt. Non-heading, juicy blue-green wavy leaves will stand light freezing which improves their cabbage-like flavor. Plants grow two to three feet tall.

These large, dark green, cabbage-like leaves retain eating quality for up to 2 weeks or longer. Champion is a compact collard plant that has an increased bolt resistance and enhanced winter hardiness, truly making it a champion!


This popular iceberg produces green, ample sized heads of crunchy, mild-tasting lettuce. Well suited for spring and summer plantings, the heads close early and fill in quickly to form bulky, flattened globes.

A type of iceberg lettuce, Crispino dependably produces firm, uniform heads and glossy green leaves with a mild, sweet flavor. Crispino lettuce plants are especially notable for their adaptability, thriving in conditions that are less than ideal, especially in warm, humid climates.

“Two Star” 
Two Star is slower to bolt and has a sweeter taste than most other green leaf lettuces. This leaf lettuce has tender, dark green leaves and produces uniform heads that are heavy weight.

The reddest of the red romaines, Outredgeous has sword-shaped, ruffle-edged, glossy garnet-red leaves that are substantive and thick with a sweet, crisp bite. It has an upright growing habit, is stout and sturdy and can be harvested as a baby leaf or allowed to mature into a loose romaine head about 10″ tall.

The Nevada lettuce variety is a Summer Crisp or Batavian lettuce that can be grown under cool conditions with additional heat resistance. Lettuce ‘Nevada’ still tastes sweet and mild long after other lettuce plants have bolted.

Optima is a thick-leaved type, consistently producing perfect, dense heads. Its velvety texture and buttery flavor are sure to be a hit in every salad! Shows field resistance to downy mildew, lettuce mosaic virus and bolting.

Vulcan lettuce is an early maturing loose Red Leaf variety. It is a hardy, slow to bolt and vigorous cut-and-come-again lettuce that offers two to three harvests per season.

High quality butterhead with glossy red outer leaves and a big bright green heart.

“Parris Island Cos” 
Parris Island Cos is a romaine-type lettuce. Bright growth with medium green, slightly savoyed (crinkled) leaves, crisp ribs, and buttery-green heart.