Saturday, March 16, 2013

Burt's Bees: Canola oil plant

The beauty and skin product company Burt's Bees gets a lot of their botany fully correct in their online ingredient list, but manage to get one of the most common plant-derived oils listed with a mistake in its scientific name, like this:


Canola oil comes from two different plants in the genus Brassica, which is in the mustard family (Brassicaceae).  In this genus are all the common cabbage crops - broccoli, cauliflower, broccoli rabe, white and red cabbage, brussels sprouts, rape seed, kale, collards, turnip, kohlrabi, some of the mustards, and rutabaga.  Through artificial breeding over hundreds of years these plants have been bred into crop varieties for the harvest of their seeds, leaves, roots, flowers, and seeds, respectively.

The two species that canola oil can come from are Brassica napus and Brassica rapa, and B. rapa now usually includes plants previously called Brassica campestris (not campetstris, as listed on Burt's Bees website). Since each species includes many cultivars and crops with a variety of common names, the scientific names have to be used to define the species in taxonomy.

INCI lists Canola oil as being  "an oil derived from Brassica napus L., Brassicaceae, low in erucic acid".  [Note the lack of italicizing the scientific name of the plant.]

Brassica napus. Source: Köhlers Medizinal-Pflanzen, Wikimedia, Public domain.

Canola oil is derived from the seeds, which are black and tiny and situated inside a long capsule. 

The Brassica taxonomy is still a bit uncertain (and messy), but here is an updated list of the species in the genus. Listing canola oil as Brassica campestris is not a major mistake considering the messy taxonomy of these species, but misspelling campestris is definitely incorrect.