What Is Kale?



What is kale? Seems as if a lot of people don't know!

Kale (Brassica oleracea var. acephala) is a group of vegetable plants in the cabbage family used mostly as cooked greens, although young kale leaves are tasty in salad.

Other names for kale are ornamental cabbage and borecole. Although kale is related to broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower, it never forms a head. If your "kale" has a head, you don't have a kale -- you've got a cabbage. :)

All types of kale are edible, even the ones labeled as "ornamental"!

What is kale? Handy facts about kale

Red Russian kale in my front yard edible garden
  • Plant type: Most are hardy biennials, usually planted as an annual -- one cultivar is a perennial
  • Plant size: Depends on cultivar, most are 1-2 feet (50 cm) on each side when mature.


The perennial cultivar known as Jersey kale, Walking Stick kale, or Tree Collards can grow up to ten feet (3 meters) tall!

  • Easiest way to plant: Either buy the plants (which is what I prefer because I'm impatient) or start from seed. 
  • Propagate by: Saving seed in biennials. Can root branches of perennial kale.
Kale flowers
  • Edible parts: Leaves, stems, shoots, flowers (which on some cultivars are rare)
  • Fruit color: n/a
  • Flower color(s): yellow
  • Flower type: small (less than 1 inch/2 cm wide), trumpet shaped. Look very similar to broccoli blossoms.
  • Blooms: In late spring to mid-summer of its second year (biennials)
  • Leaf color(s): Varies dramatically depending on cultivar, anywhere from blue-green to bright green to pink to purple to white. Many varigated cultivars are available.
ornamental kale
  • Leaf type: Varies widely by cultivar, can be smooth, crinkled, oak-leaf shaped, oval, frilly, and so on. Most resemble cabbage leaves in some way.
  • Leaf size: Mature size about 1 foot/30 cm long, 6-8 inches/15-20 cm wide in most. Some cultivars have smaller leaves.
  • Stem color: Usually the same as the leaf color -- green, pink, white, purple, etc.
  • Likes: Well-drained, moist soil
  • Tolerates: Almost any kind of soil or pH, partial shade, salt, heat, cold
  • Dislikes: deep shade (will get leggy in very dark areas)
Purple kale
  • Uses: Border plant, flower beds, accent plant, container gardens, perennial kale can be used as a hedge tree

Some kale cultivars will "rise up" in the center as they grow, adding a unique and interesting shape to your garden.




Want to be notified of updates? Learn more about my newsletters

What would you like to read about now? Here are some popular pages:

Perennial plants - Annual flowers - Kitchen herb garden



Or search this site:



Please note that the search results page from Google may have ads ABOVE the actual search results that are not from this site.

Top of page