This cardoon was featured in the UT Gardens on Neyland Drive in Knoxville. Photo by T. Watson.

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UT Gardens' Plant of the Month:
Cardoon


Submitted by Terumi Watson

Cardoon, or Cynara cardunculus, is a thistle-like perennial plant that is very similar to the globe artichoke. The plant has been popular in modern home gardens for its ornamental values, such as the silvery-gray serrated foliage, dramatic texture, and bright purple flowers; however, cardoon originates in Southern Europe as a Victorian vegetable. The French grew cardoon for culinary purposes, and the Quakers brought it to American kitchen gardens in the early 1790s.

This hardy, majestic plant has architectural leaves that provide a year-round interest in perennial borders and herb gardens and add a tropical look in landscapes. In mid-summer, tall stems of clear purple flowers appear. They attract the attention of bees and butterflies as well as garden enthusiasts. This plant definitely inspires gardening conversations.

Start cardoon seeds indoors in late winter or early spring and plant the seedlings outside after the last frost. Mature plants should be divided and the offsets planted in early spring. Make sure to provide a plenty of space for each plant to grow as they don't like to be crowded.

Cardoons perform the best in full sun and deep, rich garden soil. The mature cardoon can grow up to 3 to 5 feel tall and 6 feet wide, depending on the cultivar. Cardoon seeds are viable for about seven years after they are collected from the spent flower heads.

Cardoons are much larger and hardier than artichokes. The edible part of cardoon is the fleshy thick leaf stalks, not the flower receptacle like artichokes. Ample watering and thorough weeding are important for growing a healthy plant with succulent stalks.

Harvesting cardoon leaf stalks requires a unique trick. The stalks need to be blanched before harvested. This is done by tying each plant into a bundle, wrapping the bundles with straw, and mounding the soil around the plant for about one month. Cardoons are usually harvested during winter months and often treated as annuals if they are grown for culinary purposes. In areas with mild winters, you can harvest cardoons from November to February. Then, start new crops in early spring.

The tender leaves and stalks of cardoon can be cooked or eaten fresh in salads. The blanched leaves are used like celery in soups and stews.

Terumi Watson is a graduate student in the University of Tennessee Department of Plant Sciences. She works under the guidance of Dr. Susan Hamilton, director of the UT Gardens. The UT Gardens are a project of the Tennessee Agricultural Experiment Station. The original gardens are located in Knoxville on Neyland Drive. Additional gardens are located in Jackson on Airways Blvd. Admission is free, and the Gardens are open to the public seven days a week during daylight hours.

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Contact:

Patricia C. McDaniels, (865) 974-7141

 

 
     
 

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