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Artichoke Thistle Cynara cardunculus

Previously known as:

  • Cynara scolymus
Phonetic Spelling
SIN-ah-rah kar-DUNK-yoo-lus
This plant is an invasive species in North Carolina
Description

Native to the Mediterranean region, Cynara cardunculus grows as a perennial in locations that experience temperate climates, where the summers are cool and the winters mild. It was introduced to the US in the 1800's.  Can be found growing in disturbed open sites, such as grassland, chaparral, coastal scrub and riparian areas.  

It has prickly, deeply cut, gray-green foliage and tall flower stalks topped with brilliant purple flowers.  While it is a perennial, it is often grown as a half-hardy annual.  Annual plants may not have enough time to grow before flowering, but the large, jagged leaves provide ornamental interest all of their own.

The attractive foliage starts out silver, becoming a gray-green as they grow.  They can reach lengths of up to 3'.  As the leaves age, they can begin to lose their upright form.  To keep a neat appearance, trim off the older leaves.  

Cardoons need rich, well-drained but moist soil and full sun to grow.  They may go dormant in hot summers and will die back in winter.  Mulch heavily to aid in winter survivability.  Considered weedy in some areas.  Be mindful of the spines along the stem, although spineless cultivars exist.

The flowers can be cut or dried and, while edible, are not considered as suitable for eating as Scolymus Group artichokes.  Instead, the leaf stalks and root are blanched, harvested, cooked, and eaten as a vegetable.

The above ground portion of the plant dies to the ground each year, but will regenerate itself from its large, deep taproot.  

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems:   Diseases that may damage this plant include root rot, gray mold and powdery mildew.  Insect problems include snails, slugs and aphids.  

In some locations, such as California, it has spread to form colonies, and is considered to be invasive.  The large taproot must be removed to avoid new sprouting.

Strong winds can damage this plant.

VIDEO created by Andy Pulte for “Landscape Plant Identification, Taxonomy and Morphology” a plant identification course offered by the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Tennessee.

Profile Video:
See this plant in the following landscape:
Vegetable Garden- Raised Beds
Cultivars / Varieties:
Scolymus Group
Tags:
#purple#showy flowers#full sun tolerant#small spaces#annuals#edible plant#perennials#purple flowers#showy leaves#rabbit resistant#herbaceous#deer resistant#vegetable garden#herbaceous perennials#cutting garden#vegetable#pollinator plant#edible garden#dried arrangements#poor soils tolerant#butterfly friendly#container vegetable garden#bee friendly#container plant#shade intolerant#cut flower#landscape plant sleuths course
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
Scolymus Group
Tags:
#purple#showy flowers#full sun tolerant#small spaces#annuals#edible plant#perennials#purple flowers#showy leaves#rabbit resistant#herbaceous#deer resistant#vegetable garden#herbaceous perennials#cutting garden#vegetable#pollinator plant#edible garden#dried arrangements#poor soils tolerant#butterfly friendly#container vegetable garden#bee friendly#container plant#shade intolerant#cut flower#landscape plant sleuths course
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Cynara
    Species:
    cardunculus
    Family:
    Asteraceae
    Life Cycle:
    Annual
    Perennial
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Division
    Root Cutting
    Seed
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Europe, Africa
    Wildlife Value:
    Flowers are attractive to pollinators as well as birds.
    Play Value:
    Attractive Flowers
    Attracts Pollinators
    Textural
    Wildlife Food Source
    Edibility:
    Leaf stalks are blanched, harvested, and cooked as a vegetable. Roots may also be cooked and eaten.
    Dimensions:
    Height: 3 ft. 0 in. - 6 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 2 ft. 0 in. - 3 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Annual
    Edible
    Herbaceous Perennial
    Vegetable
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Habit/Form:
    Clumping
    Columnar
    Erect
    Growth Rate:
    Rapid
    Maintenance:
    Low
    Texture:
    Coarse
    Appendage:
    Prickles
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Soil Texture:
    Clay
    High Organic Matter
    Sand
    Shallow Rocky
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Alkaline (>8.0)
    Neutral (6.0-8.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Occasionally Dry
    Available Space To Plant:
    3 feet-6 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    7b, 7a, 8b, 8a, 9b, 9a, 10b, 10a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Brown/Copper
    White
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    White to brown cylindrical fruits with numerous bristles are attached at the base.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Purple/Lavender
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Head
    Solitary
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Edible
    Good Cut
    Good Dried
    Showy
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Fall
    Summer
    Flower Petals:
    7 - 20 petals/rays
    Flower Size:
    1-3 inches
    Flower Description:
    Large, spiky, thistle-like flowers on tall stalks that bloom to bright purple. Edible like an artichoke, although of lesser quality.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Leaf Color:
    Gray/Silver
    Green
    Leaf Feel:
    Prickly
    Leaf Value To Gardener:
    Edible
    Showy
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Rosulate
    Leaf Margin:
    Lobed
    Serrate
    Hairs Present:
    Yes
    Leaf Length:
    > 6 inches
    Leaf Width:
    > 6 inches
    Leaf Description:
    Deeply cut, gray-green foliage with sharp prickles. The upper side of the leaves is slightly hairy. The underside is covered with dense hairs that resemble wool.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Green
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Form:
    Straight
    Stem Surface:
    Hairy (pubescent)
    Stem Description:
    The stems are leafy, erect and branched. Covered in small, sharp prickles. Cultivars exist with smooth stems.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Container
    Patio
    Landscape Theme:
    Butterfly Garden
    Cutting Garden
    Edible Garden
    Pollinator Garden
    Design Feature:
    Accent
    Border
    Small groups
    Specimen
    Attracts:
    Bees
    Butterflies
    Pollinators
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Deer
    Drought
    Dry Soil
    Poor Soil
    Rabbits
    Problems:
    Invasive Species
    Spines/Thorns
    Weedy