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What Is Ornamental Kale?

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  • Written By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 07 November 2016
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Ornamental kale is a plant in the Brassica oleracea family that is known for its colorful leaves. Gardeners prize ornamental kale for its bright leaves and its ability to survive through cold winters. Like regular green kale, ornamental kale is edible.

Kale, whether ornamental or ordinary, is very closely related to the cabbage. The main difference between kale and cabbage is that cabbage grows a unified head of leaves, while the kale’s leaves are looser and more detached. Cooking with kale is very similar to cooking with cabbage, and in fact, the two are largely interchangeable. Most kale that is grown commercially for food purposes is dark green in color. Ornamental kale is usually used in decorative gardening, though it can be and often is eaten.

The only thing that differentiates ornamental kale from green kale is leaf pigmentation. Leaves on ornamental plants are purple, pink, and light cream colored, often in stripes or swirls. Nothing about this pigmentation affects the leaf taste, but ornamental varieties are rarely sold, mostly because they are more expensive.

Part of the expense owes to demand. The prettier a plant is believed to be, and the more appealing its color combinations, the more expensive it usually is. Gardeners use ornamental kale to liven up gardens and to create interesting herbaceous borders. They are easy to grow and hard to kill and are resistant to most diseases and pest problems.

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Serious gardeners have been known to selectively breed ornamental kale to create desired color combinations or leaf patterns. The plants traditionally grow leaves in small rosette-like clusters. In ornamental varieties, those clusters usually include some green but also can incorporate leaves that are wholly purple or cream-colored. The most prized of the ornamental kales include splashes of pink, lavender, and deep purple in an almost marbled pattern on leaves.

Ornamental kale are popular accents to gardens the world over. They are typically planted in year-round gardens to add interest and color, particularly in the winter months. It is generally also easy to cultivate them in pots, which makes them an attractive addition to porch gardens and rooftop planters.

Growing kale is unlike growing vegetables of most other varieties because of its heartiness and general weather resistance. Gardeners in most parts of the world can plant all types of kale in either the spring or autumn, and leaves are generally vibrant year-round. The kale plant, like the cabbage, is generally frost-resistant, and the leaves can freeze without dying. Some culinary experts even maintain that kale tastes best when its leaves have been frozen at least once.

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