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Plant Ranking

An incomplete ranking of common plant families, according to my subjective opinions.

Posted: Mar 16th, 2021

Super Tier

Grasses (Poaceae)
Maize, wheat, rice, and other grains provide the majority of dietary energy for humanity. 🌽🌾 Bamboo, reeds, and straw are common building materials. 🎋 Sugarcane is an important source of biofuels. We eat it, we live in it, we use it as decoration, we play sports on it, we ferment it to get drunk. Basically the entire human experience is dedicated to cultivating and enjoying grass.
Legume Family (Fabaceae)
Peas, peanuts, beans, chickpeas, alfalfa, liquorice. 🥜 Important staple crops that fix nitrogen and heal soil. Also includes things like acacia, which is used to make gum, and true indigo, which is used to make, well, indigo. And clovers for luck! 🍀 I’ve heard people say that the use of these plants to rejuvenate soil is one of the things which boosted agricultural productivity enough to kickstart the industrial revolution. So thanks, Legume. Thanks for everything.
Nightshades (Solanaceae)
Yes, some of them are deadly poison. But some of them are only somewhat poisonous, including potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, bell peppers, chili peppers, tomatillos, and tabacco. 🍆🍅🥔 Potatoes are some of the most nutritious and land/resource-efficient food crops. They really are a miracle, and we all owe a debt of gratitude to whatever ancient south american farmer ate a bunch of nightshade until finding the ones that are just barely poisonous. Even tabacco, infamous for its use as a drug, is important for scientific research as a model organism.

A Tier

Amaryllis Family (Amaryllidaceae)
Amaryllis, daffodils, and onions. 🧅🧄 The flowers are nice, but onions and garlic are where the real magic’s at.
Mallows (Malvaceae)
Cacao, okra, cotton, kola nuts, and durians. This family also includes pretty stuff like the baobab and the hibiscus. 🌺 If not for my personal onion obsession, this would easily take fourth place.
Oak Family (Fagaceae)
Oak, chestnut, and beech. 🌰 The backbone of American forests.
Palms (Arecaceae)
A classic cultural symbol, representing victory, peace, paradise, and vaporwave. 🌴 Dates and coconuts are very important fruits which come from palms. 🥥 And to be honest, I just like to look at them. They’re neat.
Olive Family (Oleaceae)
Olives, ash, jasmine, and lilacs. 🫒 This deserves its place up here for cultural reasons even before considering the magnificent value of its oil.
Gourd Family (Cucurbitaceae)
Put some pickled cucumbers on your burger, eat some tasty melon, carve a jack-o-lantern, and scrub your back with a luffa. 🥒🍈🎃 It’s gourd time! These plants are also also very fun to grow, with lively vines to curl around fence posts.
Bromeliads (Bromeliaceae)
Some of these things are pretty freaky looking, but in a cool way. And pineapples are objectively the best pizza topping. 🍍
Cactus (Cactaceae)
Iconic. 🌵
Rose Family (Rosaceae)
Roses themselves, I’m not too keen on. 🌹 But this family includes Apples, Pears, Blackberries, Raspberries, Strawberries, Plums, Peaches, Cherries, and Apricots, 🍎🍐🍓🍑🍒🌸 basically all the central examples of tasty fruit. The only major downside? The family also contains almonds.
Banana Family (Musaceae)
Banananas and plaintains. 🍌 Surprisingly one of the world’s staple foods. Note that “banana family” also seems to be used to refer to a broader clade.
Rue Family (Rutaceae)
Citrus, sichuan pepper, and the curry tree. 🍋🍊 Good smells, good flavors, good family of plants.

B Tier

Mustards (Brassicaceae)
Cabbage, broccoli, collard greens, kale, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts. 🥦 Those are all the same species. There’s also turnips, bok choy, radishes, horseradish, and rapeseed, which is used to make canola oil. And of course, most mustard comes from this family. That’s an impressive variety of foodstuffs. Shame it’s mostly boring.
Carrot Family (Apiaceae)
This family has some decent veggies like carrots and celery; 🥕 Some flavorherbs like dill, cumin, and parsely; but also some deadly poisons like hemlock and cilantro. A nice, well-rounded plant family.
Sunflower Family (Asteraceae)
Sunflowers, daisies (including lettuce), chrysanthemums, dandelions, tumbleweeds, and thistles (including artichokes). 🌻 Sunflower oil is nice, and thistles are neat. But wow, that’s a lot of invasive species. This family would be ranked lower if not for my legal obligation as a Kansas resident to feel positively about sunflowers.
Cypress Family (Cupressaceae)
Junipers, Redwoods, and cedars. These are some high-quality conifers.
Willow Family (Salicaceae)
Willows, of course. But also aspens, poplars, and cottonwoods. Sitting under a willow tree makes me feel happy.
Tea Family (Theaceae)
Tea. It’s good. 🍵
Coffee Family (Rubiaceae)
Obviously, the star of the show is coffee, which I can admit is an impressive plant even if I don’t drink the stuff myself. But this family is full of plants with interesting medicinal properties, like the quinine tree, kratom, or that shrub they use to make ayahuasca.
Orchid Family (Orchidaceae)
I don’t get excited about pretty flowers on their own, but orchids are really impressive and unique looking. And some of them even mimic insects. Vanilla is an orchid, too.
Asparagus Family (Asparagaceae)
Asparagus, along with agaves, yuccas, snakeplants, an hyacinths. A nice array of interesting looking plants.
Fig Family (Moraceae)
Figs, jackfruit, breadfruit, and mulberries. Not a big fan of these flavors, but the whole fig-wasp symbiosis is just too fascinating to rank these any lower.
Heath Family (Ericaceae)
Blueberries, huckleberries, cranberries, crowberries, bearberries, deerberries, bilberries, lingonberries, farkleberries, whortleberries. 🫐 We get it, Ericaceae, calm down with the berries. Also, breaking the pattern, this family contains the ghost plant, a small pale white flower which has lost the ability to photosynthesize and lives entirely by stealing nutrients from fungi.
Spurge Family (Euphorbiaceae)
This family gives us cassava, castor oil, and the rubber tree, which would be enough to get A tier. But I’m sticking this family down in B tier because too many of these things are trying to steal Cactus’ style.

C Tier

Laurel Family (Lauraceae)
Includes cinnamon, avocados, 🥑 and laurel, which is used to make those champion leaf-hat things. Some impressive individual plants, making for a high C tier family.
Myrtle Family (Myrtaceae)
Guava, clove, allspice, eucalyptus.
Walnut Family (Juglandaceae)
Walnuts, pecans, wingnuts, and hickory. Some solid nuts, but nothing that excites me.
Pine Family (Pinaceae)
Cedars, firs, pines, and spruces. 🌲 These are some fine conifers, but they just don’t measure up to the cypress family.
Aloe Family (Asphodelaceae)
I like them, and have some sentimental attachment to them, but their goo is over-rated.
Mint Family (Lamiaceae)
This family has some good stinks. Mint, sage, thyme, basil, rosemary, lavender, and catnip. I’ve never smelled teak wood myself, but wikipedia says it smells like leather.
Sacred Lotus Family (Nelumbonaceae)
Although this family only contains two species, one of these species is a cultural superstar. 🪷
Cashew Family (Anacardiaceae)
One the one hand, mangos, cashews, and pistachios are pretty tight. 🥭 On the other hand, poison ivy and poison oak? Not so tight, my dude. And cashews are pretty difficult and environmentally costly to farm (they are delicious though).

D Tier

Sedges (Cyperaceae)
I’ll be honest, I’m not too hip on sedges. Poseur grass, if you ask me. But props for giving us papyrus.
Rush Family (Juncaceae)
More poseur grass. It has its uses, though.
Buckwheat Family (Polygonaceae)
Rubarb and sorrel gets a pass, but the titular buckwheat is just more of this D-tier fake grass.
Ginseng Family (Araliaceae)
Ginseng and Ivy. Yeah yeah herbal medicine. Yeah yeah, ivy makes for nice facades. Whatever.
Dogbane Family (Apocynaceae)
Oleander? Periwinkle? Frangipani? Are these even real names? It gets a passing grade because Monarch butterflies need milkweed, which lays within this family.
Iris Family (Iridaceae)
Saved from the bottom tier by the inclusion of saffron.

Fine Tier

No plant is a failure per se, and every species of plant is a beautiful example of biodiversity, even the ones that smell like corpses or cause permanent crippling pain when you touch them. But the following families are just fine. Not tasty. Not super interesting. Just fine. Not good enough to earn a D.

Broomrapes (Orobanchaceae)
A bunch of parasitic weirdos which destroy crops. And they don’t even look cool doing it. Just evil fake mushrooms, really.
Duckweed grows in ponds. Taro is an important food crop, but I don’t like it.
Birch Family (Betulaceae)
Hazelnuts, birch, and ironwood. Also filberts. (What on earth is a filbert?)
Borage Family (Boraginaceae)
Borage? More like boring! Forget-me-nots? More like Forgettable! Am I right? Up top!
Carnation Family (Caryophyllaceae)
Includes soapwort, which can be used to make mild soap. That’s neat, I guess.
Horsetail Family (Equisetaceae)
Horsetails. That’s it. 20 species of ‘em. I’ll be honest, these things gross me out. I don’t like looking at them.
Buttercup Family (Ranunculaceae)
I got excited when I read that this family includes “land anenomes” and “wolfsbane”, but neither of those plants are nearly as exciting as I had imagined.
Plantain Family (Plantaginaceae)
I know what you’re thinking. Plaintains down at the bottom? What’s going on. I’ll tell you what’s going on. The “Plaintain Family” doesn’t include plaintains. Instead it’s full of garbage like fleaworts, turtleheads, foxgloves, snapdragons, purple-chinese-houses and butter-and-eggs.

Inspired by / based on the following resources:

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