Types of Turnips

Turnip varieties go way beyond the standard old Purple Top and white Tokyo Cross, to include surprising range of sizes, shapes, colors, flavors of both roots and leafy greens, and time they take from seed to table.

Botanical Names: Brassica rapa

Ancient turnips (Brassica rapa) are edible plants with a single roundish or conical lower or underground stems, planted by seed in late spring and late summer to grow during the coolest part of the season. The most common varieties have one- to five-inch diameter white roots, sometimes with purplish shoulders where sunlight hits them, and solid, crunchy white or pale yellow flesh.

Some cultures call turnips swedes or Swedish turnips, because they look a lot like larger rutabagas (Brassica napobrassica), a cross between turnips and cabbage thought to have originated in Scandinavia.

Like Brussels sprouts, most turnip varieties contain an acrid-tasting substance (cyanoglucoside) which makes them taste pungent and somewhat bitter until cooked; many people are genetically more sensitive to this substance, making all but the very sweetest varieties unpalatable.

Growing Turnips

Turnips are planted from seed in full sun and moist well-drained soils, and are ready to harvest while small from just five or six weeks after planting, up to two months for fully mature plants. Because they have the best quality and flavor during cool weather, they are planted in late spring and, where seasons are longer, again in late summer for a fall and winter crop. For larger roots, gardeners thin young plants to three to six inches apart, eating the thinned plants.

Types and Varieties of Turnips

Turnips are very closely related to broccoli, cabbage, mustard, and kale. In ancient times turnips were either globular or broad-bottomed, but over the centuries different types of turnips appeared, including ones with long carrot-like shapes, and skins that are pure white to some with purple or red shoulders. Flesh can be white, yellow, golden, or red-veined, and bitter as radishes or smooth and creamy almost like apples.

“Baby turnips” can be simply small turnips harvested early, or specialty varieties which never get very large, can have white, orange, yellow, or red flesh, and are mild and usually eaten raw.  

Here are a few turnip varieties available at local garden centers; online sources offer many more, including heirloom varieties you will never enjoy unless you grow your own.

  • Purple Top White Globe  - the standard spicy white globe with purple shoulders, can get large but sweetest when harvested at just three inches in diameter 
  • Scarlet Queen – hybrid with bright red skin and smooth white flesh
  • Tokyo Cross – very popular all-white hybrid, an All-America Selection winner
  • Market Express – very early producer, pure white roots
  • White Knight – flattened pure white globe, late producer with pure white flesh
  • Alltop - hybrid with vigorous, high-yielding top growth, great greens-only variety
  • Just Right – a hybrid with smooth, mild roots white roots, easy to plant in fall
  • Gilfeather – egg-shaped heirloom with creamy white flesh and nearly smooth leaves
  • Golden Ball - sweet, yellow flesh
  • Seven Top – heirloom grown only for its large, dark green edible leaves
  • Shogoin – very popular tender, mild white root also grown for its greens
  • Topper – fast, heavy yields of greens in just over a month
  • Hakurei – fast producing white root that is the sweetest of all, much loved by chefs

Next Up

Turnip Plants

Turnips have a rich history and interesting health benefits, and can be grown easily in spring or fall home gardens.

Turnip Seeds

Sowing and saving tiny turnip seeds is fun, easy, and helps you grow some of the most interesting heirloom varieties for planting year after year.

Growing Turnips

For thousands of years, colorful turnips and their leaves have been an easy-to-grow staple cool-weather vegetable with few pests or problems.

Growing White Turnips

Turnips with white roots are both easy to grow and valued for their tenderness and sweetness, with some compared with apples for their lack of classic turnip tanginess.

Growing Turnip Greens

In many cultures, including the Southeast US, turnips are grown as much for their tasty, highly nutritious leaves, called “greens” as for their roots. Here are a few tips to get the most out of turnip greens.

Growing Yellow Turnips

Turnips with yellow flesh are neither hard to find nor hard to grow, though the much more common cousins are very similar in taste and texture.

Purple Top Turnips

Varieties of turnips with white roots topped with purple are among the most popular of all, and are easy to grow in small spaces in home gardens.

When to Harvest Turnips

Turnips can be pulled and eaten any time after they start growing really well but are completely mature and ready to harvest within six or eight weeks of planting. They can be stored for weeks or even months if harvested correctly.

When to Plant Turnips

Turnips are cool-weather plants that can be sown in late winter, spring, or late summer to give them the two months they need to mature before it gets too hot or freezes.

How to Store Turnips

While turnip greens should be consumed within a few days of harvest, turnip roots can be stored for days, weeks, or even months with the right harvesting and preparation.

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