Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Mystery of Artichokes


The Italians are famous for growing an incredible diversity of violet heritage artichokes, from Violetta di Chioggia and Purple of Romagna, to Romanesco Italian Purple. And they are rightfully very proud of this diversity. I’ve never seen any of these in any US market, even in California, so I decided to try growing them myself. 

Besides being tasty and tender, the purple varieties are stunningly beautiful, especially as they develop on the plant. Artichokes are commonly propagated by dividing an established plant. They are not reliably grown from seed. I learned firsthand why that is: the seeds don’t grow true to the parent plant. My mystery artichoke (photo above) came from a packet of Purple of Romagna seeds that I grew and planted in my garden. I knew that the results might vary, but I couldn't resist giving it a try from seeds.  

Some of the seeds grew into thornless Purple of Romagna, and some grew into spiny plants with very long sharp thorns on the slender, dark purple artichoke. But I'm not sorry I tried, because the spiny artichokes are visually dramatic (see photo above) and add to my collection. They are also great for eating.

I suspect my Violetto is the same as Purple of Romagna

An international symposium on the artichoke and its relatives is going on as I write this, in Viterbo Itay, organized by the International Cynares Project.  A study conducted in Italy that suggests that many of their artichokes are actually the same cultivar, they just have different names, as they are typically named for the region or city in which they are grown. This makes sense, and I suspect the Violetto I planted as a seedling from a nursery may be the same as the Purple of Romagna I grew from seed.  I'll keep researching artichoke varieties, but I also love the mystery. 

Photos: Patricia Larenas, Urban Artichoke

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