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Cardoon, with its spiky, thistle-like blossoms,  is a large perennial plant that can reliably overwinter in USDA Zone 7 and should be mulched for winter protection in Zone 6 where the Missouri State Fruit Experiment Station at Mountain Grove is located.

Cardoon, with its spiky, thistle-like blossoms, is a large perennial plant that can reliably overwinter in USDA Zone 7 and should be mulched for winter protection in Zone 6 where the Missouri State Fruit Experiment Station at Mountain Grove is located.

by Marilyn Odneal, Horticulture Adviser

(Mountain Grove) – You remember that I was recently puzzled over a pomegranate growing in Mountain Grove. Well, I was in our State Fruit Experiment Station Horticulture Garden the other day and saw what I thought was an artichoke growing in one of the raised beds! I asked Susanne Howard, our horticulturist who manages the garden, when we should harvest the artichokes. She informed me that it wasn’t an artichoke at all, but a cardoon. I needed to investigate after coming into contact with this confounding cardoon.

Cardoon, or Cynara cardunculus, is a thistle-like perennial plant that is similar to the globe artichoke, Cynara scolymus, although it is larger than its relative. Mature cardoons can grow up to 3-5 feet tall and 6 feet wide. It is winter hardy to USDA Hardiness Zone 7, although some sources report Zone 6 in which Mountain Grove is located. Cardoon is native to Southern Europe where it was used as a vegetable. It found its way to America in the early 1790s.

This southwest Mediterranean plant produces large flowerheads that can be cut and dried for arrangements. It is a statuesque element in the garden with its silvery-gray serrated foliage, bold texture, and striking purple midsummer blooming flowers. Leaf stalks and midribs are eaten when blanched. Unopened flower heads can also be eaten like artichokes.

The leaf stalks need to be blanched before harvesting. This is reportedly done by tying each plant into a bundle, wrapping the bundles with straw, and mounding the soil around the plant for about one month (source: University of Tennessee Plant of the Month by Terumi Watson – http://utgardens.tennessee.edu/pom/cardoon.html ). Where cardoons are ordinarily grown, they are usually harvested during winter months. In areas with mild winters, you can harvest cardoons from November to February.

Admittedly, I am not sure what exactly we are going to do with our cardoon, but time will tell. Since it is not reliably winter hardy, but made it through last winter, we shall see if it will indeed withstand our winters. If the harvesting and preparation of cardoon seems a bit daunting, as it does to me, focus on its striking bold texture and eye catching beauty for a cottage garden. You will certainly have a conversation piece in your border.

Direct comments or questions concerning this column to Marilyn Odneal via email at MarilynOdneal@missouristate.edu; write to Missouri State Fruit Experiment Station, 9740 Red Spring Road, Mountain Grove, Mo. 65711; or call (417) 547-7500. Visit our Web site at http://mtngrv.missouristate.edu.

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