Onkruidenier projects

Separated worlds

sea beet x sugar beet

At the time the family of beets was described by Carl Linnaeus in ‘Species Plantarum’ in 1753; he considered beach beet, chard and red beet as varieties of each other. Labelling and categorising plant species is subject to interpretation that may change over time. At the time Linnaeus published his second edition of ‘Species Plantarum’ (1762), he divided the beet family into two different species; wild and cultivated varieties, and gave the name Beta maritima to the wild sea beet. Today, we again consider the beach beet and cultivated beet as the same species because they can cross-pollinate and produce fertile offspring.

In 2018, we met farmer Martin from Noordwelle in Zeeland. He has been growing sugar beet all his life and had no idea that its wild ancestor, just a few hundred metres from his field, grows on the coast. Now that his fields are salinising, he was keen to experiment with us by growing beach beets alongside his sugar beet. That way, we could see how the beets would develop side by side. In the extremely hot and dry summer, the beach beets grew fine in Martin’s field. Although the sugar beet remained somewhat smaller, the percentage of sugar was still good, despite the silted field. After harvesting the beach beets in September, we could also taste the roots of the beach beet better. The taste is not very sweet and harvesting the root proved very difficult because of its widely branched root structure and the fatty clay.

Beach beets, like all beets, have oval thick leathery leaves. The leaves often shine beautifully and have deep veins. The leaves often grow horizontally close to the soil so that the plant can easily retain the sandy soil and moisture around it. In the summer months, the beets get long flowering spikes. You see the beach beet is really made for growing along the coast. You will find these characteristics much less in sugar beet. Sugar beet also grows well in places close to the sea. Why is this beet salt-loving? Sugar beet is cultivated from its wild ancestor; the beach beet, a beet that grows close to the coast and is used to a salty landscape. In the systematics of classification, sea beet and sugar beet belong to the same family. However, they live in two completely different worlds.

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