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How many kinds of greens are there, anyway?

The National Garden Bureau has named 2009 the Year of Greens.

By Janis KieftThe National Garden Bureau / January 7, 2009

Colorful: Greens aren't always green. This is Red Mustard.

Photo courtesy of The National Garden Bureau

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Greens are a diverse group of plants that are grown and eaten primarily for their edible leaves. Not always green in color, leafy greens can be red or purple, flecked, speckled or multicolored.

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Mesclun is a term given to mixes that contain a variety of leafy greens. (See the National Garden Bureau's Fact Sheet on Mesclun.)

Greens can be harvested at many different stages of growth. As a "micro-green," plants are harvested as young seedlings with only one or two true leaves, usually within 10 to 14 days of planting the seeds.

They are delicious in salads and sandwiches, and often used as an edible garnish. Allowing plants to grow a couple more weeks, they can be harvested for use as "baby greens."

Small but full of flavor, the tender, bite-sized leaves are an essential element of gourmet menus. Of course, greens can be allowed to grow to full size before being harvested.

Classification and varieties
Many of the greens grown today are Brassicas from the Brassicaceae (also called Cruciferae) or cabbage family.

This family of economically important plants includes broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower and gives us a wide variety of greens including arugula, mizuna, tatsoi, cress, collards, and mustard greens.

Most greens are annuals, though sorrel and cress are perennials that can be grown as annuals.

Arugula (Eruca sativa) – also called roquette, rocket salad, or rocket, is easy to grow with green leaves that are lobed and add a spicy snap to salads. A popular green in Europe, it is used in many Italian and French dishes.

When young, the leaves have a mild, radish-type zip that is sometimes compared to the flavor of horseradish. Many people like to combine arugula with other milder greens to balance the stronger flavor. Arugula is ready to harvest in four to six weeks.

Asian greens such as mizuna (Brassica rapa japonica) and tatsoi (Brassica rapa rosularis) are making a splash in American gourmet cuisine.

Mizuna has white stems and delicate green leaves with finely cut fringed edges. Fast growing and delicious, mizuna is ready to eat in 20 to 40 days. It is tolerant of most weather even growing in hot temperatures without bolting.

Tatsoi, also called spoon cabbage or rosette pak choi, has very dark green leaves, appearing almost black in color, with a mild peppery flavor.

It's very weather-tolerant and continues to grow through cold temperatures and light snow. It also tolerates heat so you can make several plantings from spring through fall.

Tatsoi is delicious as a baby green and it grows quickly into mature plants that are ready to harvest in five to seven weeks.

Cress, also called garden cress or pepper grass (Lepidium sativum) is a fast-growing green harvested as a sprout within a week or so after germination. It has a tangy, pepperlike flavor and aroma.

'Wrinkled Crinkled Crumpled' cress is aptly named. It is a fast growing, large leafed cress with extremely curly leaves that takes a little longer to mature and is ready in about 14 to 21 days.