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 Beta vulgaris subsp. var.  Beet
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The beet (Beta vulgaris) is a plant in the amaranth family. It is best known in its numerous cultivated varieties, the most well known of which is probably the red root vegetable known as the beetroot or garden beet. However, other cultivated varieties include the leaf vegetables chard and spinach beet, as well as the root vegetables sugar beet, which is important in the production of table sugar, and mangelwurzel, which is a fodder crop. Three subspecies are typically recognised. All cultivated varieties fall into the subspecies Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris, while Beta vulgaris subsp. maritima, commonly known as the sea beet, is the wild ancestor of these and is found throughout the Mediterranean, the Atlantic coast of Europe, the Near East, and India. A second wild subspecies, Beta vulgaris subsp. adanensis, occurs from Greece to Syria.

Sea beet (Beta vulgaris subsp. maritima), the wild ancestor of the cultivated forms

The beet has a long history of cultivation stretching back to the second millennium BC. The plant was probably domesticated somewhere along the Mediterranean, whence it was later spread to Babylonia by the 8th century BC and as far east as China by 850 AD. Available evidence, such as that provided by Aristotle and Theophrastus suggests that the leafy varieties of the beet were grown primarily for most of its history, though these lost much of their popularity much later following the introduction of spinach. The beet became highly commercially important in 19th century Europe following the development of the sugar beet in Germany and the discovery that sucrose could be extracted from them, providing an alternative to tropical sugar cane. It remains a widely cultivated commercial crop for producing table sugar.

Beta vulgaris is a herbaceous biennial or rarely perennial plant with leafy stems growing to 1–2 m tall. The leaves are heart-shaped, 5–20 cm long on wild plants (often much larger in cultivated plants). The flowers are produced in dense spikes, each flower very small, 3–5 mm diameter, green or tinged reddish, with five petals; they are wind-pollinated. The fruit is a cluster of hard nutlets.



Pests and diseases


A selection of chard, grown for its stem color.
  • Beta all cultivated varieties of the beet, which are grown for their taproots, leaves, or swollen midribs.
    • B. v. ssp. vulgaris convar. cicla (leaf beets) - The leaf beet group has a long history dating to the second millennium BC. The first cultivated forms were believed to have been domesticated in the Mediterranean, but were introduced to the Middle East, India, and finally China by 850 AD. These were used as medicinal plants in Ancient Greece and Medieval Europe. Their popularity declined in Europe following the introduction of spinach.
      • B. v. ssp. v. convar. cicla. var. cicla (spinach beet) - This variety is widely cultivated for its leaves, which are usually cooked like spinach. It can be found in many grocery stores around the world.
      • B. v. ssp. v. convar. cicla. var. flaviscens (chard) - Chard is grown for its leaves, which have thick and fleshy midribs that are used as a vegetable. Some cultivars are also grown ornamentally for their coloured midribs. The thickened midribs are thought to have arisen from the spinach beet by mutation.
    • B. v. ssp. vulgaris convar. vulgaris (tuberous beets) - This grouping contains all beets grown for their thickend tubers rather than their leaves.
      • B. v. ssp. v. convar. vulgaris var. crassa (mangelwurzel) - This variety was developed in the 1700s for its tubers for use as a fodder crop
      • B. v. ssp. v. convar. vulgaris var. altissima (sugar beet) - The sugar beet is a major commercial crop due to its high concentrations of sucrose, which is extracted to produce table sugar. It was developed in Germany in the late 18th century after the roots of beets were found to contain sugar in 1747.
      • B. v. ssp. v. convar. vulgaris var. vulgaris (garden beet) - This is the red root vegetable that is most typically associated with the word 'beet'. It is especially popular in Eastern Europe where it is the main ingredient of borscht

Beets are cultivated for fodder (e.g. mangelwurzel), for sugar (the sugar beet), as a leaf vegetable (chard or "Bull's Blood"), or as a root vegetable ("beetroot", "table beet", or "garden beet"). Major root vegetable cultivars include:

  • "Albina Vereduna", a white variety
  • "Burpee's Golden", a beet with orange-red skin and yellow flesh.
  • "Chioggia", an open-pollinated variety originally grown in Italy. The concentric rings of its red and white roots are visually striking when sliced. As a heritage variety, Chioggia is largely unimproved and has relatively high concentrations of geosmin.
  • "Detroit Dark Red", with relatively low concentrations of geosmin, and is therefore a popular commercial cultivar in the United States.
  • "India Beet" is not as sweet as Western beet. However India beet is more nutritious than Western beet.[citation needed]
  • "Lutz Greenleaf", a variety with a red root and green leaves, and a reputation for maintaining its quality well in storage.
  • "Red Ace", the principal variety of beet found in the United States[citation needed], typical for its bright red root and red-veined green foliage.

"Blood Turnip" was once a common name for beet root cultivars for the garden. Examples include: Bastian's Blood Turnip, Dewing's Early Blood Turnip, Edmand Blood Turnip, and Will's Improved Blood Turnip.[1]

The "earthy" taste of some beetroot cultivars comes from the presence of geosmin.

Beets are one of the most boron-intensive of modern crops. A lack of boron causes the meristem and the shoot to languish, eventually leading to heart rot.


Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture

Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture

Beet. A set of garden vegetables, grown for the fleshy roots and a few sorts for the thickened midribs; and some kinds in the ornamental garden for the highly colored foliage.

There are 4 or 5 species of the genus Beta, which are sometimes cultivated under the name of beet, but Beta vulgaris, Linn., is the only one of practical importance. From it all our common garden varieties are derived. According to DeCandolle, the aboriginal slender-rooted species is found in sandy soil, and especially near the sea, throughout southern Europe, and on nearly all the coasts of the Mediterranean. It also occurs as far eastward as the Caspian Sea and Persia. "Everything shows that its cultivation does not date from more than two or three centuries before the Christian era." It is now highly improved, principally in the one direction of large and succulent roots, and is much esteemed in all civilized countries. See Beta.

The beet grows at a low temperature and thrives best, therefore, in the cooler parts of the country. It is also an important winter crop at the South and an early spring crop at the North. The young plants will stand light frosts and after two weeks will stand fairly heavy frosts. With the extension of glasshouse gardening, beets have come to be one of the important greenhouse crops. They are not usually made a main crop, however, but are grown between other crops, such as lettuce, beans, or even tomatoes. They are sown very thick and when the young plants begin to crowd, they are thinned out and the thinning sold for greens. As beets thrive best at relatively low temperatures, they may first be grown in a lettuce-house or other greenhouse having a temperature of 60° to 70°, rather than in a house piped for tomatoes or cucumbers.

The beet is grown exclusively from seed. Most table- beet seed for use in the United States is produced in Europe. It is possible, of course, for any gardener to grow his own seed, but in order to do this the roots must be taken up before the crown is exposed to severe frost, and carried through the winter in cool and moist but frostproof storage, and planted in the garden the second year. Seed stems run up to the height of 4 feet. When the seeds are ripe the tops are cut and put in a warm storage house to dry. When fully dry the seed is winnowed out. Seed is usually sown where the crop is to grow, although the plants are easily transplanted. The transplanting is sometimes undertaken, especially when beets are to be grown as a catch-crop or intercrop in greenhouses.

Varieties and types.

Some of the most popular varietal types of the garden beet are: Bassano (Fig. 499).—Flesh white and light red mixed; an old-time early variety, now less grown than formerly. Crosby.—Slightly oblate, red flesh, excellent for general purposes, including forcing. Early Blood Turnip.—Rich, deep blood-red, flattened turnip-shape; an old and well-known sort. Edmund.— Moderate size; handsome, rounded, smooth, deep red; good grain and flavor; not quite first-early. Eclipse.— Uniformly globular, bright red; fine-grained and sweet; one of the best quick-growing early beets. Egyptian Turnip.—Tops quite small; roots fair size, rich, deep red; a standard early variety.

For field culture of culinary beets, the long-rooted varieties are chiefly used. These are sown in the field as soon as the weather is settled, in rows far enough apart to allow of tillage by horse. Most of them require the entire season in which to mature. They are grown mostly for storing for winter use. They were once grown for stock, but the mangel-wurzels give much greater yields. The various types of Long and Half-long Blood beet (Fig. 500) are chiefly used for field culture.

Favorite varieties of mangel-wurzels are Golden Tankard, Golden Yellow Mammoth, Mammoth Long Red. Several sorts of sugar beets, mostly imported from Germany, are being grown in divers places in America. Of chard, there are few selected varieties offered in America.

The varieties of Beta vulgaris may be conveniently divided into five cultural sections, though the distinctions are somewhat arbitrary and of no fundamental importance. These sections are as follows:

1. Garden Beets. Varieties with comparatively small tops: roots of medium size, smooth, regular and fine-grained: mostly red, but sometimes whitish or yellowish.

2. Mangel-wurzels, or Mangels. Large, coarse- growing varieties, with large tops and often very large roots, the latter frequently rising some distance out of the ground; rather coarse-grained. Extensively grown for stock-feeding. See Cyclo. Amer. Agric. Vol. II, p. 539 (Root Crops).

3. Sugar-beets. Sometimes said to belong to another species, but doubtless to be classified here. Rather small-growing varieties, with medium tops: roots small to medium, usually fusiform, smooth, nearly always yellowish or whitish. See Cyclo. Amer. Agric. Vol. ll, p. 588.

4. Chard, or Swiss Chard. Varieties with comparatively large tops, broad leaf-blades and very large, succulent leaf-stems, which are cooked and eaten somewhat like asparagus. The thrifty, tender young leaves make a very excellent pot-herb. Chard has sometimes been referred to a separate species, Beta Cicla, but should be included with B. vulgaris. See Chard.

5. Foliage Beets. A race which has been developed to produce luxuriant foliage of many colors and varied markings. Of such varieties are the Brazilian, Chilian, Victoria, and Dracaena-leaved. The ribs of the leaves are usually beautifully colored. Where the leaf-blight fungus is not serious, these foliage beets make excellent borders when strong and heavy effects are desired, and they are excellent for bedding. Raised from seeds, as other beets are; roots may be kept over winter.


Young beets constitute one of the most important early crops in truck-gardening. Many acres of them are grown near all the city markets, and as they bear transportation well, they are often grown at comparatively remote places. Large quantities are shipped early from Norfolk, Va., and from other southern points to northern markets. Like all root crops, the beet needs a loose, light, fresh, clean, rich soil which must be in the best condition of tillage. No fermenting manure should be used, but instead fully rotten barn manure, with some good potash fertilizer. Light applications of nitrate of soda often produce marked beneficial effects. The seed for the first crop is sown early in spring, as soon as the soil can be well worked. When intensive gardening is practised, the drills may be as close as 1 foot apart, m which case the young beets are thinned to 6 inches apart in the row. But in ordinary gardening, it will be found most convenient to run the rows 2 to 3 feet apart, allowing cultivation with the horse. The plants in such rows can be left 4 inches apart at thinning time. The thinning is done when the young plants are large enough to be pulled for "greens," for which purpose they find a ready market. Beets are also grown in quantities as a fall crop, and are stored for winter use. When this is to be done, the seed is sown in June, and the plantation is managed in all respects like the spring sowing. When the young roots are ready for the early market, they are pulled and tied in bunches of five or six. The fall crop is pulled soon after the first frost, the tops are removed, and the roots stored in pits or root cellars.


Greenhouse beets and early beets are usually bunched for market, three to six together, according to size. They are bunched together tightly with a string about the tops. All beets should be thoroughly washed before marketing. Considerable quantities of late beets and field-grown stock are sold in bulk, like potatoes. In this case the tops are cut off. Late-grown beets may be stored over winter in the same manner as potatoes. They are often buried in the fields in pits, but may be kept in a good cellar or storage house. The yield of mature beets varies from 200 to 500 bushels to an acre, 300 being an average yield.

Insects and diseases.

There are many species of insects that feed upon beets, but flea beetles are about the only ones of importance. These may be poisoned by spraying with paris green or arsenate of lead, and they are driven away in many cases by the use of bordeaux mixture which is also the most important preventive of leaf- spot. This leaf-spot is perhaps the worst disease which attacks beets, but this is more common upon the sugar- beets in the field than upon the more common varieties. The potato scab, very common on potatoes, is found also on beets, and as this disease lives in the soil from year to year, it is a bad practice to grow beets after a crop of potatoes.

The above text is from the Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture. It may be out of date, but still contains valuable and interesting information which can be incorporated into the remainder of the article. Click on "Collapse" in the header to hide this text.


  1. Beets Varieties

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