Even though rhubarb is widely known in the Western world, not many people know what it is, how it tastes, or even how it looks. Despite that, it is heavily consumed, and it is a staple food for many people.
More importantly, rhubarb makes for an excellent addition to any garden. Thanks to its size, beauty, and uses, it boosts any landscape superficially and productively.
If you recently tasted it or want to know what it is all about, then you’ve come to the right place. Here, we’re going to show you everything: going from what it is, what it does, and the different types of rhubarb you can get.
Want to know more about it? Take a look below!
What is Rhubarb Exactly?
The scientific name of the plant is “Rheum rhabarbarum.” It comes from the Polygonaceae or “smartweed” family. This means it is an herbaceous plant. Though it looks like swiss chard or kale, this one is more related to buckwheat and some weeds.
The most exciting part about this plant, however, is the unique color it has. The leaves are often dark to bright green, while the stalks have an intense red-to-green color that attracts anyone’s attention.
Apart from that, in any of its varieties, the plant prefers cold environments over warm ones. This makes it an even rarer plant, resembling leeks and lettuce. This one, however, can be found all across Alaska – where other vegetables don’t grow.
Rhubarb still works in warmer places. As long as it’s the right variety, the plant can likely resist and thrive. In fact, rhubarb comes from central Asia (the coldest areas). But there’s evidence of rhubarb being used in warmer regions like Europe and the Middle East.
Is Rhubarb a Vegetable or Fruit?
In short, it is neither. It is more of an herb than it is a vegetable or fruit. But because we consume the plant directly and not its produce, we put it in the vegetable family.
However, the plant is typically used as a fruit. Yes, you read that right. Because the rhubarb leaves are not edible, the stalks become a go-to option for many foods due to their subtle sweetness. Even though the stalk tends to be tarty, it still combines well with sweeter fruits like strawberries in desserts.
So, what is it then? Technically it is a veggie. In 1947, however, rhubarb was legally declared a fruit (because of its use). There you go then, it is both a veggie and a fruit. But frankly, it is an herb.
Are Rhubarb Leaves Poisonous?
The reason you can’t eat rhubarb leaves is simple: they are poisonous. They contain a considerable amount of calcium, heavily concentrated, called oxalic acid. This acid is toxic to humans, even in small quantities. For that reason, rhubarb leaves are typically avoided.
Why Plant Rhubarb at Home?
Now, if its leaves could be poisonous, it mostly grows in cold environments, and even worse – we aren’t still sure whether it is a veggie or a fruit. So, should you plant it at home? Well, here are a few reasons to consider that:
It is Cold Hardy
Once you’ve planted rhubarb, it will not take more than 3 years to be edible. More importantly, you can plant it in fall or winter itself (even in cold areas), and the plant should thrive. For sure, you will need the right variety for that.
It is A Gorgeous Ornamental
Because it lasts 3 years to become edible, you will enjoy 3 years of a gorgeous plant. While it grows the wide and vast leaves, you will get the chance to boost your garden appeal.
It has many anthocyanins, a type of antioxidant that you can find on red onions, beans, and grapes. These antioxidants give the stalk the red color. But they also offer another advantage: they’re healthy, helping to prevent cancer, improve blood pressure, and even avoid heart attacks.
Also, rhubarb is an excellent ingredient in desserts – especially strawberry pie. With its tartness, it combines with anything that could be too sweet to eat alone.
Salads & Sauces
Lastly, you can chop some rhubarb and eat it alongside other veggies if necessary. Otherwise, you can put it in slow fire alongside onion and garlic to make a zesty sauce. Either way, it will taste amazing.
14 Best Rhubarb Varieties to Consider for Your Garden
With the basics about rhubarb figured out, let’s get into what you came here for: the different types of rhubarb you will find. We’re explaining how they look, how they grow, what they need, and in some cases, how they taste. Take a look!
1. Cherry Red (Rheum x hybridum ‘Cherry Red’)
As the name says, it is a bright-red stalked variety. The leaves are normal-sized and grow to no more than 1 or 2 feet.
The exciting part of this variety is the sweet taste. In contrast with other types, this one is less tarty, so it adds up well to desserts and sweet foods.
As for growth, you will need relatively cold areas of no more than 40 degrees Fahrenheit. It also requires partial shade and will start producing the reddest and juiciest of stalks by April. A humid soil helps it enormously.
2. Chipman’s Canada Red (Rheum rhubararum’ Chipman’s Canada Red’)
Many people know it as the “Canadian Red” because of its origin. It was initially developed in places like Winnipeg. Because of its extra cold-hardy capacity, it became a sweet veggie.
This plant will typically require temperatures of about 20 degrees Fahrenheit to thrive. It appreciates being planted in the fall over winter or early spring. And you can harvest it in late spring or summer one year after planted.
It is easy to spot because the stalk boasts an intense red-to-purple color with a white center.
3. Crimson Red (Rheum x hybridum ‘Crimson Red’)
Among the easiest-to-grow rhubarb varieties, the Crimson Red is a lovely one. It stands out for the bright red stalks and ability to grow in temperatures between 20- and 40-degrees Fahrenheit.
Generally, it prefers the fall season as a start. You can plant it about 4 weeks before the last winter to make it grow even better.
Like other cold-hardy species, it matures in a year and grows to about 3 feet wide and 4 feet tall.
4. German Wine (Rheum x coltorum ‘German Wine’)
As you can guess, the name refers to the uniquely reddish color it boasts. This red is so intense that it resembles a rose wine. And more interestingly, it is one of the sweetest.
The species is also a cold-hardy variety. Meaning, it can withstand temperatures as low as 20 degrees Fahrenheit (or even lower). But it can also grow in places as warm as 50 degrees without problems.
What sets it apart is a thick stalk, juicier and fleshier than the typical rhubarb. It can grow to about 3 feet wide but not more than 2 feet tall.
5. Glaskin’s Perpetual (Rheum rhabarbarum)
This one is an English-originated variety. For that reason, it can grow in cool climates as well as relatively warm ones (50 degrees Fahrenheit tops), but it prefers to be between 20 to 30 degrees.
What makes it so interesting is the rapid maturity. You can harvest this rhubarb sooner than other varieties. As soon as the plant reaches 1 foot in height, it is ready to be eaten. At the same time, it can be harvest in late summer (as it contains less oxalic acid) because it stays sweeter for longer.
The stalks tend to boast red and green at the same time.
6. Grandad’s Favourite (Rheum x hybridum ‘Grandad’s Favorite’)
One of the highest-yielding rhubarb types, the Grandad’s Favorite tends to have a sweet with slight tartness taste. It makes for an excellent option for salads and sauces.
In terms of color, this one achieves pink and green stalks. The stalks can reach 2 feet in height. And what’s even better, growing denser than most other varieties.
For growth, it requires full sun and well-drained soil. Generally, it prefers warmer environments than other varieties (40 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit). It can grow to 3 feet tall and wide after 2 years.
7. Hardy Tarty (Rheum rhabarbarum ‘Colorado Red’)
You may also find it as the Colorado Red, the Hardy Tarty is a bit tartier than other varieties, and for a reason. It contains some of the highest amounts of antioxidants and oxalic acid.
But that doesn’t make it any less edible. After 2 years of growth, it will produce 3-feet tall stalks with a bright red to green color and a white center. This talk will be ready to be consumed in late spring and summer.
To grow it, you will need relatively cool environments of about 30 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. But because it needs full-sun exposure to thrive, it generally works on warmer temps as well.
8. Holstein’s Bloodred (Rheum x hybridum ‘Holstein Bloodred’)
One of the juiciest and most intensely-colored varieties is Holstein’s Bloodred. As the name says, it boasts an almost blood-colored stalk with excitingly dark green leaves. The combination makes it an excellent ornamental variety.
But it’s still edible, in fact, one of the tastiest. Most importantly, it yields more than other varieties thanks to the 4- to 5-feet tall stalks.
To grow it, you will need temperatures going from 25 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. And because it grows a lot, it also demands consistent sun exposure.
9. KangaRhu (Rheum rhabarbarum ‘GARrusarsabzar’)
Among the newest types of rhubarb, you’ll find the KangaRhu variety as an interesting choice. This one is native to Australia, thus the name. For that reason, it is more of a warmth-climate, needing between 20- and 70- degrees Fahrenheit of temp to thrive.
Like most rhubarb varieties, it also has a stark red stem. This stalk is surprisingly bright and may hold a slight greenish tone in some cases.
For growth, you will need full sun exposure. Given the right conditions, it can grow to 3 feet tall and be harvest after 2 years in late spring up to early fall.
10. Prince Albert (Rheum x hybridum ‘Prince Albert’)
The name comes from Queen Victoria’s husband. As you may guess, it is an English heirloom variety that prefers a UK-like environment. This is why it is a perfect choice for relatively cold climates going from 20 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Its stalks are often green-to-red, can grow to 4 feet tall and about 3 feet wide. After 3 years of growth, it will be ready for harvest from April to May.
Despite its greenish color, this variety is sweet, even though it still holds some tartness. When cooked, it gets a pinky color.
11. Riverside Giant (Rheum x hybridum ‘Riverside Giant’)
As the name says, this one is a giant. The Riverside Giant can get to 4 feet in width and over 5 feet in height, making it larger than the typical rhubarb.
What sets it apart is not only the size but its color. In contrast with other varieties, this one never turns red or pink – it stays green all the way. Interestingly, it is still edible. After 3 years of growth, it will be ready to be harvested anywhere from April to June.
Another exceptional feature of this species is the ability to grow in places as cold as -40 degrees Fahrenheit. However, like most rhubarb, it thrives at around 20 degrees.
12. Sunrise (Rheum rhabarbarum ‘Sunrise’)
An old rhubarb variety that still holds some popularity nowadays: Sunrise or Early Rise species. This one is a bit different than others as it boasts a pink stalk, it is thin but juicy, and offers one of the sweetest of tastes. For that reason, it is a go-to option for rhubarb pie.
The plant requires temperatures between 10- and 30-degrees Fahrenheit to grow. However, it can also withstand relatively warm environments of up to 40 degrees.
If the right conditions appear, this plant can grow to 3 feet tall and about 2 feet wide. It will be ready for harvest in about 2 years.
13. Timperley Early (Rheum x hybridum ‘Timperley Early’)
A high-yielding variety that also grows relatively tall, the Timperley Early produces 3-feet stalks ready to be harvested as soon as 1 and a half years after planted. More interestingly, you can harvest them from February to March without a problem.
It is the red-based stems with green upperparts that could achieve a pinky tone. The stalks are still fleshy and with a green-to-white center.
To grow, they need moist soil, temperatures at around 20 degrees Fahrenheit (can handle 50 degrees), and full-sun exposure, even though they also thrive in partial shade.
14. Victoria (Rheum rhabarbarum)
Lastly, we have probably the most popular of all rhubarb varieties worldwide, the Victoria species. It was first introduced in 1837, and since then, it has become a staple of rhubarb everywhere.
The red-and-green stalks are among the easiest to recognize. But apart from that, they give the rhubarb species a tartier flavor with mild sweetness. It is a go-to option for desserts as well.
As for growing it, you will need temperatures ranging from 10 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit (it can withstand a bit colder and warmer nonetheless). Yet, it requires a lot of sun exposure. When fully matured, it reaches about 3 feet in height and 4 feet wide.
With so many types of rhubarb to go for, choosing the ideal one shouldn’t be much of a problem. Just make sure it’s a species that will grow well in your area, and that will deliver precisely what you’re looking for (ornamental, sweet, or tarty taste, long or short stalks, etc.).
Once you’ve picked the right variety, learning how to grow rhubarb shouldn’t be much of a problem. So, what are you waiting for? Get one of these now!