The wild ancestor or the progenitor of the sugar-beet plant is the sea beet or the wild beet (Beta maritima). Sea-beet is a type of wild plant mostly known for its foliage. Habitation is transcribed to the Mediterranean coast as well as interior parts of Europe in the region of the Caspian and Black Sea, the Atlantic coast of Europe and the islands close-by(Canary, Madeira and Balearic etc). It is also to be noted that Wild beet has been classified by some taxonomists as a subspecies(maritima) of Beta vulgaris. It grows well in sandy soils on sea shores and is tolerant to excessive sodium. The genus Beta is a member of the goosefoot(Amaranthaceae) family, the taxonomy has changed over the years, the original Chenopodiaceae which was an independent family, has now been classified as a subfamily under the Amaranthaceae family.
DOMESTICATION AND CULTIVATION:
The domestication and cultivation of sugar-beet has evolved over thousands of years, since very ancient times in Greece, Rome, Mesopotamia etc. For ages beets were used as animal feed or fodder, the leaves and sometimes even the fleshy taproot being utilized for culinary delicacies. Although an array of cultivated varieties have cropped up from the domestication of Beta vulgaris, there are three specific ones which are noteworthy. Swiss chard(the leaves), red-beet or table-beet and the sugar-beet. The early sugar-beet contained only 4% sucrose and was not used for sugar extraction. The discovery of sucrose and and its likeness with that obtained from sugar-cane was what prompted two scientists in Silesia(Central Europe) around 1747 to begin a period of experimental breeding meant for the temperate climatic conditions of Central Europe and invention of specialized techniques for sugar extraction and milling. Breeding techniques led to beets with sucrose content of the order of 20%. Andreas Margraff and his student Franz Karl Achard cumulatively worked for 50 long years to make this happen.
BOTANICAL DESCRIPTION :
The sugar-beet plant is mostly biennial but also occasionally annual. It is a dicotyledonous as well as a herbaceous plant, a member of the Amaranthaceae family. A fleshy taproot grows in the first year and is surrounded by secondary roots, and a seed-stalk(an indication that the reproductive process has begun) in the second. A period of wintering known as vernalization is essential for the reproductive stage to commence. The leaves are purple-green in color and are ovate or cordate in structure, they seem to spring from an under-ground stem and take the shape of a rosette. Further up the stem however the shape and structure of the leaves gets transformed , they become less petiolate and more sessile. The seeds are in clusters.
References and Acknowledgements
1. Canadian Food Inspection Agency(website)