categoryZCrops Crops List 





Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris

Goosefoot Family [Amaranthaceae]

month8aug month8sep month8sept


14th Sept 2011, Rostherne, Cheshire. Photo: © RWD
The typical Sugar Beet field is large.

14th Sept 2011, Rostherne, Cheshire. Photo: © RWD
The scattered tall plants have bolted and are flowering and about to set to seed.

24th Aug 2011, Rainford, Merseyside. Photo: © RWD
One of the bolted plants, up to 6 feet tall with many flowering branches. The stems are strongly fluted.

20th Aug 2011, Swettenham, Cheshire. Photo: © RWD
The rootstock vegetable pokes its widest part above ground level, with a dozen large leaves on Celery-like stalks, but which are not red but green. The leaves are elongated D-shapes and are edible in themselves, and can be eaten like spinach.

20th Aug 2011, Swettenham, Cheshire. Photo: © RWD
The beet pokes about 2 to 4 inches proud of ground-level, and has a yellowish skin. Leaf stalks have a cross-section similar to those of Celery or Rhubarb.

20th Aug 2011, Swettenham, Cheshire. Photo: © RWD
An up-rooted beet. Almost conical in shape. The yellow colouring is due to the presence of a betaxanthine pigment, see below in the Betalaines box.

14th Sept 2011, Rostherne, Cheshire. Photo: © RWD
The flowers are in panicles, green, and interleaved with narrow green bracts. Many similarities to Sea Beet to which it is directly related.

20th Aug 2011, Swettenham, Cheshire. Photo: © RWD
The flowers are green and are not dis-similar to those of Weld.

20th Aug 2011, Swettenham, Cheshire. Photo: © RWD
Flowers have five green tepals and a leaf-like bract or two.

20th Aug 2011, Swettenham, Cheshire. Photo: © RWD
The leaves are semi-glossy.

24th Aug 2011, Rainford, Merseyside. Photo: © RWD
Stems are deeply fluted.


 Mutations Menu

20th Aug 2011, Swettenham, Cheshire. Photo: © RWD
Possibly an example of fasciation, where the growing centre is elongated.

Sugar Beet and Mangel-wurzel are easily mistaken for each other, the two plants both have the same scientific name, Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris, the only difference being the particular variety. Mangel-wurzel is not as sweet and is grown as livestock fodder, whereas Sugar Beet is selected from varieties with a much higher sugar level in order to extract sugars from it for human consumption, for it typically contains up to 20% sugar. Both of the root-stocks are a similar size, but Sugar Beet seems to be whiter. Indeed, it is always possible that your Author has in-correctly identified Sugar Beet; it may be Mangel-wurzel for it seems to be grown in many fields and on many farms within 50 miles radius of here. Much more Sugar Beet for Sugar production is grown in the UK now than is Mangel-wurzel for animal fodder, so the likelihood is that it is Sugar Beet.


In America, Monsanto supply genetically modified transgenic varieties of Sugar Beet which are then immune to the herbicide Round-up (which contains Isopropyl amine glyphosate). Glyphosate is a carboxylic acid, and it is usually presented as a salt, either the ammonium salt, potassium salt, or isopropyl amine salt. The name 'Glyphosate' is a contraction of Glycine phosphonate. Round-up is the Trade Name of Monsanto, who not only supply the Round-up resistant seeds, but also also supply the herbicide itself. Such genetically altered plants are called Round-up Ready. This enables the farmer to apply the herbicide to kill other arable weeds whilst the Sugar Beet remains un-affected. The disadvantage of such an approach is that any seeds that bolting plants may produce, may be fertilised and cross breed with non-genetically modified plants, thus transferring the genes for herbicide resistance to other varieties and possibly other plants too. It is for this reason that any bolting plants (ones which have grown much taller and flowered) are quickly eliminated. Ipso-facto: genetically modified Sugar Beet plants are probably not grown in the UK - for in all the fields your Author has seen, there are typically over a 100 plants which have bolted! But then, these are probably Mangel-wurzels, which have not been genetically altered. Repeated exposure of weeds to Round-up itself has resulted in the emergence of resistance to Round-up. Weeds so pre-disposed are known as superweeds. Other genetically altered Round-up Ready plants include versions of Maize, Sorghum, Soy, Canola, Alfalfa and Cotton.


Betaine has a Zwitterion structure with separated positive and negative charges and was originally found in Sugar Beet (Beta vulgaris). It is a non-proteinogenic amino acid (NPAA). There are many other Betaines, all with a Zwitterion structure.



The ORDER:Caryophyllales encompasses not only the Amaranthaceae (Goosefoot Family) but also the families of Aizoaceae, Caryophyllaceae, Droseraceae, Francienaceae, Nyctaginaceae, Phytolaccaceae, Plumbaginaceae, Polygonaceae, Portulaceae and Tamaricaceae (as well as perhaps a dozen other families not represented in UK flora). The Caryophyllales are alone in the plant world for adopting colouring compounds based exclusively on Betalains rather than Anthocyanins (blue/purple Flavonoids). The only exception to this are the families Caryophyllaceae (Carnation Family) and Molluginaceae from which Betalains are entirely absent. Betalain-like compounds have been discovered in carnivorous plants from the Drosera Genus (Sundew) and from the Nepenthes Genus (Pitcher Plants) which has led to both of these being re-classified into the order: Caryophyllale.

The Betalains and Anthocyanins are all pigments and seem to be mutually exclusive; plants adopting one never have both at once! But sometimes the Betalains co-exist with Anthoxanthins (but not anthocyanins). Anthocyanins are blue/red flavonoids, whereas Anthoxanthins are yellow/orange flavonoids. The Betalains in the Caryophyllales completely take over the role assumed by Anthocyanins in other plant families. Both class of compounds are highly coloured, but the anthocyanins dominate in all other plant orders. No one quite knows why this is, nor which came first and which was superseded by the other.The red coloured betalains are derived from Tyrosine, whereas the red coloured anthocyanins are derived from phenylpropanoids. The red coloured betalains serve as a complete functional substitute for anthocyanins, and so far no plant has ever been found to contain both types of red pigments.

The Betalains, on the other hand, are not flavonoids at all, but indole-derived pigments. The name Betalain given to this group of pigments is derived from the Genus Beta, which contains Beta vulgaris, hence the text is written here [It should rather be written under a page dedicated to the order: Caryophllanes, but your Author has created no such page; he doesn't classify Families into Orders. So the Author has put this section on Betalains under Beta vulgaris for want of a better place to put it].

Although both Anthocyanins and Betalains are water-soluble reddish pigments found in the vacuoles of plants, they have totally different chemical structures, the former based on Flavonoids the latter on Indole and Betalamic Acid, an alkaloidal dicarboxylic acid. Betalamic Acid is the essential structural element of all natural Betalains and their presence in plants belonging to the order: Caryophyllales is instrumental.

The Betalains are further sub-divided into two categories: The Betacyanins which are reddish to violet pigments; and the Betaxanthins, which are yellowish to orange pigments (the colour is within the Ancient Greek names for sky-blue and yellow).

  The best studied Betalain is Betanin, the glycoside of Betanidin. Betalain, also called Beetroot Red because it is found within Beetroots (which is yet another member of the Beta vulgaris plants), is a deep red colour and is used as a food colouring agent (Permitted colouring E162), and it hydrolyses into the sugar glucose and its coloured aglycone Betanidin. Indeed, most Betalains are also glycosides, and hydrolyse into a sugar and a coloured aglycone portion.

Like many dyes and pigments, the actual colour of them is sensitive to pH, and it can be used as an indicator of acidity/alkalinity. Both molecules are polar, where there is a separation of charge and it is the partial sharing of a hydrogen atom which gives rise to resonance, the oscillation frequencies being reduced to then lie within the optical band which gives rise to the colour. The pH affects this resonance, so affecting the colour. In some people who are un-able to metabolise Betanin, eating beetroot results in their urine turning red. The Betalains are anti-oxidants and may have positive health benefits.

Betanidin and IsoBetanidin are stereoisomers (epimers) of one another, and both are present in Beet. It is said that PreBetanin (which is a violet pigment) and NeoBetanin are also present, but these may just be artefacts resulting from the chemical analysis, but they are also probably present when the roots are damaged or when they are cooked).


  Important betaxanthines (yellow/orange coloured betalains) present in plants include Vulgaxanthin, Miraxanthin II and Miraxanthin V, Portulaxanthin and Indicaxanthin. The most important difference structurally between Betacyanins and Betaxanthins is that Betacyanins retain an un-broken Indole moiety, whereas in Betaxanthins the indole moiety is either absent, broken, or replaced by an amino acid or amine or other small group.

  Miraxanthin I, Miraxanthin II, Miraxanthin III and Miraxanthin V (all found in the mauve-coloured flowers of Four O'Clock Flower aka Marvel of Peru (Mirabilis jalapa). Miraxanthin V incorporates Betalamic Acid and Dopamine in its structure. Miraxanthin I, below, has a sulfur atom within it and incorporates the amino acid Methionine Sulfoxide, whereas Miraxanthin II incorporates the amino acid Aspartic Acid instead. Miraxanthin III incorporates Tyramine and Miraxanthin V a dopamine amine.

Humilixanthin is found both in a member of the Pokeweed plants. It is also said to be present in Carrots, but this is very suspect; the Carrot Family (Apiaceae) is not in the order: Caryophyllales.

  Indicaxanthin (which is yellow/orange and found both in Beets and in the cactus Barbary Fig aka Prickly Pear (Opuntia ficus-indica). It is a powerful anti-oxidant and incorporates the amino acid Proline.

Portulacaxanthine is found in the flowers of both Common Puslane (Portulaca oleracea) and in Moss-rose Purslane (Portulaca grandiflora) and in other plants of the Portulaceae Family). Portulacaxanthin I incorporates Hydroxyproline, Portulacaxanthin II a Tyrosine and Portulacaxanthin III a Glycine amino acid.

Vulgaxanthin II is one of the major betaxanthins in Beetroot and in Swiss Chard. Like all betaxanthins it cannot be hydrolysed to the aglycone without degradation, and stability is not good. It exhibits anti-oxidant properties. After Betanin, Vulgaxanthin I and Vulgaxanthin II are the next most significant betalains within Beetroot. Vulgaxanthin I incorporates a Glutamine moiety, whereas Vulgaxanthin II incorporates the amino acid Glutamic Acid.


  Important Betacyanins (blue/red betalains) are Amaranthin (which is dark-red) and its stereoisomer IsoAmaranthine, which are found in species from the Amaranthaceae Family. The garden plant Love-lies-bleeding belongs to the Amaranthaceae Family and contains large quantities of betacyanins, which the Hopi Indians used as a source of a red dye, 'Hopi Red Dye'. Amaranthin is a double glycoside containing glucose (shown in red) and a Glucuronic Acid (shown in orange) sugar units; it hydrolyses into Glucose, Glucuronic Acid and Betanidin.

  Muscapurpurin is a betacyanin with an intense purple colour, peaking at 540nm, that is found within the Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria) mushroom, and is a fusion between Betalamic Acid and Muscapurpurinic Acid. As in other betacyanins, the colour is due to the extended chromophore (roughly speaking the separation of charges), which causes a bathochromic shift in the spectrum to a longer wavelength. Note that the Indole is no longer truly Indole, for it has an oxygen atom incorporated into one of the 6-membered rings. In the literature there seems to be some confusion over whether this group is cyclic, or broken open. I have shown it cyclic in the case of Muscapurpurin, and open in the case of Muscapurpurinic Acid, but it could be either. Indeed, the two differ in other ways too - there is one extra oxygen atom in the cyclic Muscapurpurin and four less hydrogen atoms than in the non-cyclic version! One of these is blatantly in-correct. However, the molecule could be unstable and the confusion may simply reflect a breakdown product; an artefact of sample isolation. I have shown the versions which seem to win the vote by way of incidence on the web.

  Muscaflavin is also a pigment of the Fly Agaric mushroom, and bears a close relationship to Betalamic Acid, but with a 7-membered ring of dihydroazepine rather than the 6-membered ring of dihydropyridine. Without the chromophore structure or separation of charges, its wavelength peak is lower at 336nm resulting in a yellow colour.


Sugar Beet contains between 12% to 20% of the disaccharide Sucrose, known popularly as Sugar. There are many differing disaccharides, each containing two monasaccharides linked by an oxygen bridge. The monosaccharides vary depending upon the particular disaccharide, but Sucrose contains the monosaccharides Glucose and Fructose. When Fructose and Glucose are fused in a condensation reaction, one molecule of water is liberated in the production of Sucrose. The reverse reaction is also possible when sucrose is boiled in a weak acid (such as Citric Acid) it undergoes hydrolysis yielding a solution of the two monosaccharides glucose and fructose, which is known as inverted or invert sugar, used in the brewing industry.

Sucrose, C12H22O11 crystallize in the Monoclinic group. It is triboluminescent, meaning it emits a dim flash of bluish light when the crystal is broken, visible under the bed-clothes when a large crystal is crushed with pliers.

Most of the Worlds Sugar comes from Sugar Cane or Sugar Beet crops. In the UK, sugar is obtained manly from Sugar Beet, for that can tolerate cooler climate than can Sugar Cane which needs a warm and never frosty climate to grow. The Sugar Beet is boiled in water to extract the sucrose as a solute, which is then concentrated and refined into a syrup from which granulated white sugar can be crystallized. Brown Sugar is not as highly refined.


Geosmin, literally meaning 'Earth smell' from the Greek for Earth, geos γης and for smell, osmos οσυης. Geosmin is a bicyclic sesquiterpene alcohol derived from Decalin with an earthy smell and flavour that is responsible for the same flavour in Beetroots and for the Earthy aroma when the soil is disturbed or the smell from some musty cellars.

Geosmin is detectable by smell at concentrations in air of just 5 parts per trillion (0.005ppb). But humans are not alone; other mammals are also astonishingly sensitive to the smell of Geosmin. It is also a contributor to the strong smell called petrichor which follows rain after a prolonged dry spell. This smell is due to the action of some actinomycetes (actinobacteria such as Streptomyces coelicolor) soil-dwelling bacteria which release Geosmin into the soil. Streptomyces coelicolor also generates another compound, this time a monoterpene called MethylIsoBorneol which also contributes an earthy aroma. Strangely enough, yet another aroma compound is created by Streptomyces coelicolor, the odorous AlbaFlavenone. Streptomyces are also famous for generating Streptomycin, the antibiotic. Myxobacteria, a totally different organism, also generate Geosmin in the soil, as do some fungal moulds especially from the Penicillium species. These bacteria have been present in soil for 440 million years, and presumably were also generating Geosmin then. It also releases a plethora of other complex molecules. Beetroot is capable of synthesizing Geosmin itself but is also responsible for Beetroots' rather unpleasant earthy taste. Geosmin can also taint water supplies imparting the same unpleasant earthy taste. Geosmin is used in some perfumes, one of which is called 'Dirt'!

However pleasant the smell of Geosmin might be to humans (and perhaps to other mammals) to the Drosophila melanogaster Fruit Fly it is a strong repellent.

There are hints that Geosmin is also a signalling molecule; research is ongoing into this. There is usually a good reason why some smells are pleasant and can be detected at extremely low concentrations, just as there are very good reasons why most poisonous gases can be detected by smell at very low concentrations - apart from some which are very dangerous such as Carbon Monoxide, CO, which is both odourless and toxic!)

A similar smell greets those who attempt to solder (but instead melt) cheap DIN plugs made from polycarbonate, a thermoplastic, but your Author does not know whether this is due to Geosmin; it is possibly a totally different volatile compound with a similar smell. There are many examples of un-related compounds with identical aromas. Your Author also thinks mouldy potatoes have a kindred smell. But odour is very subjective and variable, depending upon the presence or absence of several tens out of the hundreds of differing smell sensors present in the nose. Differing people can report the same compound as smelling differently; what is pleasant to some may be repugnant or even without aroma to others - a friend of your Authors' reports Hedge Woundwort as smelling rather nice!

  Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris  ⇐ Global Aspect ⇒ Amaranthaceae  

 family8Goosefoot family8Amaranthaceae
 BSBI maps





Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris

Goosefoot Family [Amaranthaceae]

WildFlowerFinder Homepage