Happy June, EcoFlora participants!
We are now in the second half of our May-June Ecoquest, “Mustard Madness!” To learn more about mustards and why we should be mad for them, the EcoFlora team looked to one of the expert botanists here at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, Dr. Tatiana Arias.
Dr. Arias has over 15 years of experience conducting plant research and is currently focused on orchid evolution and conservation. Long before her work with orchids began, Dr. Arias studied mustard species as part of her graduate research in Colombia. We asked her to share a little bit about her thesis and what got her interested in mustards. Here’s an overview of the discussion:
“For my research, I worked on the tribe Brassiceae, which includes all of the major economically important species in the Brassicaceae family,” she said. There are over 4,000 species in the family, and 250 species in the tribe she was working on, but her research focused on six species that are collectively referred to as the “Triangle of U”. Three of these species are diploids and three are polyploids. A diploid is an organism that contains two sets of chromosomes, one from each parent organism. In contrast, a polyploid is an organism that contains more than two total sets of chromosomes. In the case of these Brassica species, they contain two sets from each parent organism.
Plants in the Brassiceae tribe have a variety of beneficial qualities apart from their genetic diversity; some are salt tolerant, are able to accumulate heavy metals, and, according to Dr. Arias’ findings, are able to hybridize with other brassicas that genetically diverged millions of years apart from one another. Specifically, Brassica nigra (black mustard) is less closely related than B. oleracea (wild cabbage) and B. rapa (field mustard).
Dr. Arias traveled abroad during her research on Brassicaceae to the Mediterranean, which is where the family originated. From there, it spread to Europe and beyond, becoming a foundational agricultural crop that is still crucial today.
Dr. Arias said she was inspired to research the family because of its impact on plant domestication and agricultural and economic importance. The three species that Dr. Arias highlighted in her research encompass nearly all cruciferous vegetables we eat today. Brassica rapa consists of cultivars such as turnips, bok choy, napa cabbage, and oilseed. Brassica oleracea includes cultivars such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, and kale. Lastly, B. nigra is responsible for the mustard seeds that are commonly used as spices or in spreads. Can you imagine a world without a single one of these on your kitchen table?
To learn more about Dr. Arias and the extensive research she has done throughout her botanical career, you can browse her online CV for more information. Her Brassiceae publication, “Diversification times among Brassica (Brassicaceae) crops suggest hybrid formation after 20 million years of divergence,” can be found in the American Journal of Botany.
You also can read a profile of Dr. Arias and learn how her childhood inspired her career path in this story from the latest issue of Selby Gardens’ member magazine The Sanctuary.