PPDL Picture of the Week for
November 19, 2012

Ornamental or Flowering Cabbage?

Mike Dana, Professor, Horticulture & Landscape Architecture, Purdue University

Ornamental cabbage and kale have become common cool season ornamentals in our landscapes. Many people erroneously refer to these showy leafy plants as “flowering cabbage or kale.” These images illustrate why we call it “ornamental cabbage” and not “flowering cabbage.” The first two images show the normal fall appearance of an ornamental cabbage plant. The third image is a neighboring plant producing true flowers. When a plant such as this flowers, it is horticulturally known as “bolting.”

Cabbage and kale are biennials. They normally flower in the spring after going through a stress period of cool winter temperatures. Our winters in Indiana are too cold for the plants’ survival so we seldom see actual flowering on these species. This year, the extreme summer heat and drought stress fooled some cabbages into “thinking” they had passed through the winter cold stress, and now, in the fall, they are blooming.

Click image to enlarge

Normal fall appearance of ornamental cabbage

Normal fall appearance of ornamental cabbage

Normal fall appearance of ornamental cabbage

Normal fall appearance of ornamental cabbage

Bolting cabbage

Bolting (flowering) cabbage

Purdue Plant & Pest Diagnostic Lab Purdue Cooperative Extension Service