The wild celery is native to southern England, Europe and Asia. Very little is known concerning its early history, but it was probably not cultivated until after the Middle Ages. The many varieties of merit now in cultivation are the developments of comparatively recent years. As late as 1880 this vegetable was unknown to many American people and very little was grown for commercial purposes. It was then regarded as a luxury, selling at very high prices, for use in garnishing and flavoring, as well as for salad purposes.
Celery as a food and as a relish was not fully appreciated until within the past few years. It is now universally regarded as one of our most important vegetables. Immense quantities are grown for commercial purposes and no home garden is complete without it. Its uses are varied: the leaves are excellent for garnishing and seasoning; the seeds impart a pleasant flavor to soups, salads, pickles and other dishes; the thick, fleshy leaf stems are especially valued during fall and winter, when meats are used so generally and when other salad crops are not so plentiful as earlier in the season; the stalks are also cut into short pieces and cooked, seasoned with cream and butter and served like salsify or asparagus. It is one of our most wholesome and palatable vegetables, although the nutritive value is not high.
Thousands of cars of celery are grown annually in the muck soils of the large producing districts. The most extensive areas devoted to this crop are in the Great Lake region. Thousands of acres of muck lands are used annually for celery culture in Michigan, Ohio and New York. The industry has also become of great importance in California and Florida. With the varied climatic conditions of the different states which are producing celery on a large scale, our markets are well supplied during most of the year. Eastern growers as well as western producers begin marketing in July or earlier and continue to supply the trade until January. Florida and California crops are ready the latter part of December and meet the demands until late in the spring.
Intensive market gardeners of the North consider celery one of their most profitable crops, and with the overhead system of irrigation its culture is being rapidly extended.
Celery belongs to the family of plants known as Apiaceae. The botanists formerly classed this vegetable under umbelliferae. It is usually biennial, although, if seed is sown too early and the plants are checked in growth, they may produce flowers the first year This is sometimes a source of heavy losses in large plantations of early celery. The flower stalk is 2 to 3 feet high, branched and leafy; the flowers are white, inconspicuous and borne in compound umbels; the seeds are very small and flattened on the side; the leaf stalks are 6 to 15 inches long and bear three pairs and a terminal leaflet coarsely serrate and ternately lobed or divided. The wild plants have an acrid, pungent flavor.
There are two general classes of celery, namely, the green varieties and the so-called self-blanching varieties. The self-blanching class did not appear until 1884, or a few years earlier in trial grounds. It has revolutionized commercial celery culture, for probably 90 per cent of the crop now produced for market belongs to this type. Since the plants are easily blanched by means of boards, the rows may be much closer together than for green sorts, and, therefore, possibilities are very much greater. The self-blanching character is the result of breeding and selection. Although commercial possibilities have been increased, the plants have lost in constitutional vigor, being less hardy and resistant to disease, and have also deteriorated in quality.
White Plume was introduced in 1884 and of the self-blanching varieties was for several years grown most largely. It still finds favor among many commercial growers. The stalks are tall and require very little artificial blanching, but in quality it is somewhat inferior to Golden Self-Blanching.
Golden Self-Blanching is by far the most extensively grown variety in all sections, early and late and for all purposes. It attains a height of 14 to 20 inches. The plants are stocky and compact, the foliage is abundant, and the stems short, thick, and easily blanched to a creamy white. It is the most important commercial variety.
Rose Ribbed Golden Self-Blanching is similar to the Golden Self-Blanching except that it has a tinge of rose color on the ribbing of the stems.
Giant Pascal is an old green-stem variety, valued for its long stems and high quality. The plants in rich, moist soils grow to the height of 30 inches or more, making blanching rather difficult. It is planted only a$ a late variety.
Winter Queen is another popular, largely grown late variety. It does not attain as great a height as Giant Pascal, and is more convenient to store.
French Success is a stocky, compact winter variety of excellent keeping qualities.
Boston Market, a low, dwarf-growing variety, is especially popular in Boston. When thoroughly blanched with soil the stalks are extremely tender and delicious in flavor. No variety excels it in quality.
Many other varieties are described in the seed catalogs and some of them are excellent.
Celery is grown successfully in all parts of the United States. Certain climatic conditions, however, are known to be especially favorable for its most successful culture. Low humidity, plenty of sunshine, considerable warmth during the day and cool nights provide ideal conditions. Diseases are less troublesome when the air is dry, and a rapid but strong, healthy growth is encouraged by sunshine and relatively high, dry temperatures. Cool nights make the stems firm and crisp. Most northern sections provide excellent conditions during summer and fall, while some parts of the South, especially Florida, possess the proper climatic conditions for winter culture.
Although celery is one of our hardy vegetables, it will not stand severe freezing without sustaining injuries. The young plants are likely to be checked in growth by hard spring frosts which probably cause them to produce seed stalks. The matured plants are often damaged or killed by severe freezing. Vigorous plants will generally stand a drop of seven degrees below freezing, although this will impair the keeping quality. A liberal rainfall, well distributed during the growing season is necessary unless irrigation is possible.