Globe Artichoke (Cynara scolymus)
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The Globe Artichoke (Cynara scolymus) is a perennial thistle originating in southern Europe around the Mediterranean. It grows to 1.5-2 m tall, with arching, deeply lobed, silvery glaucous-green leaves 50–80 cm long. The flowers develop in a large head from an edible bud about 8–15 cm diameter with numerous triangular scales; the individual florets are purple. The edible portion of the buds consists primarily of the fleshy lower portions of the involucral bracts and the base, known as the “heart”; the mass of inedible immature florets in the center of the bud are called the “choke.”
Globe Artichokes were first cultivated at Naples around the middle of the 15th century, and are said to have been introduced to France by Catherine de’ Medici, Dutch introduced artichokes to England, where they were growing in Henry VIII’s garden at Newhall in 1530. They were introduced to the United States in the 19th century, to Louisiana by French immigrants and to California by Spanish immigrants. The name has originated from ardi shauki (أرضي شوكي), which is Arabic for ground-thorn, through the Italian, articiocco.
Today, the Globe Artichoke cultivation is concentrated in the contries bordering the Mediterranean basin. The main producers are Italy, Spain, and France. In the United States, California provides nearly 100% of the U.S. crop, and approximately 80 percent of that is grown in Monterey County; there, Castroville proclaims itself to be “The Artichoke Center of the World”. The cultivar ‘Green Globe’ is virtually the only kind grown commercially in the U.S.
Artichokes can be produced from seeds or from perennials. Perennials produce the edible flower only during the second and subsequent year, while varieties from seeds can be annual. Commercial culture is limited to warm areas in USDA hardiness zone 7 and above. It requires good soil, regular watering and feeding plus frost protection in winter. Rooted suckers can be planted each year so that mature specimens can be disposed of after a few years, as each individual plant only lives a few years. The peak season for artichoke harvesting is the spring, but they continue to be harvested throughout the summer, with another peak period in mid autumn.
When harvesting, if they are cut from the ground so as to leave an inch or two of stem, artichokes possess good keeping qualities, frequently remaining quite fresh for two weeks or longer under average retail conditions.
The recently introduced hybrid cultivar ‘Imperial Star’ has been bred to produce in the first year without such measures. An even newer cultivar, ‘Northern Star’, is said to be able to overwinter in more northerly climates, and readily survive sub-zero temperatures. A second generation of new hybrid cultivars were bred during the last decade, much more homogeneous and stable than the former and more suitable for professional growers.