Identifying and grouping plants by their first leaves

Do you ever plant seeds and forget what they were? This mystery seedling is different to other plants I have observed lately. The cotyledon or first pair of leaves are long and thin with rounded tips, similar to the giant winter spinach seedlings. The next pair of leaves are oval and broad and quite fleshy, almost like a second cotyledon rather than a true first leaf. Then the third leaf to emerge is an unpaired single leaf which has a more mature leaf profile with symmetrical scalloping.

I have recognised that similar families of plants have firstly a similar kind of seeds shape and cotyledon shape. Brassicas for example all have that distinctive four leaf clover shape to their cotyledons, though they vary greatly in size. My sprouting radish seedlings are so big, they can be plucked and eaten at the first true leaf stage. The seed is also three times the size of the mustard seed.

Varieties of the same family vary in vigour and time to flower. Mustard, cress and radish are up and proudly soaking up the sun within 3 or 4 days, while the broccoli and cabbage can take up to 10 days to emerge. They are also slower growing and take a longer time to flower.

Of late I have really come to appreciate and admire these vigorous greens and their life-giving, generous selves.


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