Artichoke or Cardoon?

A couple of weeks ago I saw an artichoke flower for the first time – Claire at Promenade Plantings posted some fabulous photos of her beautiful artichokes here.

Then last week, while visiting a walled garden in the English countryside, I came across this…

Not an artichoke as I first thought, but a Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus), sometimes called an Artichoke Thistle.

While reading up on it I was pleased to discover that not only is it edible – like the artichoke – but the plant is also a source of vegetable rennet used for cheeses, particularly in Portugal!

For comparison, here is a Globe Artichoke (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus) flower, photographed a few feet away from the Cardoon. (They were labelled in this garden, so I’m relying on those gardeners to have got it right!)

Can YOU spot the difference? (I can’t!) Confusing! They are really so similar, and obviously very close cousins! Perhaps the foliage is the clue, but I unfortunately did not think to photograph the leaves.

If anyone can enlighten me, I’d love to hear from you! Have you ever grown them in your garden?

16 thoughts on “Artichoke or Cardoon?

  1. Fabulous ! I think they are all beautiful. There are a couple of people on my allotments who grow Cardoons, for the flowers they grow to a height of at least 8ft probably more, and are HUGE plants. Your second photo reminds me of them. If my memory serves me right Cardoons (used to be) popular in Italy, I’ve never tried them though.
    If you want some more photos I’ll take a few next time I’m there with my camera. Lovely photos!!

    • The flowers in the first picture were about that high, the artichokes only about 5ft. I’ve never tried the cardoon either – it would be a shame to cut the stems before they flower! More photos would be great… perhaps the secret of identifying them is the size?

  2. I tried growing artichokes, but they only lasted a couple of years before giving up on me. The cardoon, though, comes up every year and is flowering away right now. It is a lovely big plant, and the bees love the flowers (like the bees in your photo!). Haven’t tried eating cardoon yet – I read somewhere that the leaf stalks are good and can be harvested in the spring.

  3. I´ve never heard of cardoons and to me the pictures look completely alike. Are you sure you didn´t mix up the photos??? 😉
    I was curious and had a look on the internet (jamieoliver.com): The cardoon can reach three metres in height and spread with leaves a metre long. It too produces flower heads, but they are smaller and less edible. Instead, it is cultivated fo its stems, which are fleshier than those of the artichoke.

  4. I’ve never seen a cardoon – I don’t know if they are widely grown here. I love the information that they are used as a source of vegetable rennet, that’s fascinating.

    • I have yet to eat a cheese made with that rennet, so perhaps it’s only a regional cheese. But the fact that there are vegetable alternatives is amazing.

  5. They are the same species(Cynara cardunculus) but different varieties. The artichoke is grown for its buds, whereas the cardoon is grown for its edible stems. Similar to cabbages (edible leaves), cauliflowers (edible flowers) and mustard (edible seeds).

  6. Pingback: Cardoons – built for power and poetry | e a m harris

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