Thursday, December 5, 2013

Canola oil flowers - four or five petals? Ask Trader Joe...

Canola oil is made from the rape seed plant's (several Brassica species) oil rich seeds, a member of the mustard family, the Brassicaceae.  Members of this family can easily be identified by their very typical flowers.  They have 4 petals, often white, yellow, or pink, situated in a cross-wise fashion, which gave them the old family name Cruciferae.  Yes, that is the same word beginning as in crucifix, a cross.

Brassicaceae flowers also have 6 stamens, and a central pistil that will develop into a fruit when/if pollinated.  All mustard plants have the same types of flowers, be it broccoli, garlic mustard, cabbage, arugula, or kohlrabi.  But there is one place, where the rule doesn't hold up...

Canola Oil Spray at Trader Joe's.

On the Trader Joe's Canola Oil Spray bottle, sold only at the Trader Joe's supermarket, they have nicely added some flowers from the canola oil plant to the label. Only the flowers look like this:

Close up of Canola Oil Spray cans at Trader Joe's.

So, what do we have here?  One flower with four petals (good!), and one flower with five petals (oops!).  And inside each flower, there are three 'things'.   I assume these might be stamens or pistils, but neither makes sense based on the numbers or shapes. The flowers are also never arranged in this particular fashion, but that is a minor point.

So, who cares? Well, if you make a piece of art you certainly can and should have artistic freedom. But, if you illustrate a product, the illustration should provide some knowledge (or excitement) or identification value about the product. It should be the real thing and not introduce errors or misunderstandings into the public's knowledge of plants and the product source.

The number of petals on mustard flowers are strictly determined by that group's bauplan, just like the 4 legs of a dog is based on a strict bauplan among allmammals. You don't go around and see a 5-legged dogs, do you? (5-legged dogs do exist, but are mutants, and they are even rarer in art.)

Here is the real canola:
Flowering canola plant. 
(cc)  Melanie_B (Flying Snow) on Flickr.

So, in this case, the flowers on the label are used to illustrated the origin of a product, canola oil from the canola plant. There are no canola oil flowers with 5 petals. There are no canola oil flowers with 3 non-descript things in the center of the flowers.  If this drawing had been made with 4 petals it would have been equally pretty, and also accurate. So you start to wonder where things went wrong, with the illustrator, with the description to the illustrator, or to the designer of the label?