Native to the Mediterranean and related to the artichoke, cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) has culinary uses but is principally grown for its striking, unusual foliage and interesting form. It reaches 5 feet tall and 4 feet wide, with coarse, spiny, gray-green leaves that look striking in combination with finer-textured plants. In summer, it flaunts purple flowers resembling large thistle blossoms; these can be cut and dried for arrangements. Cardoon naturalizes in the Lower and Coastal South and can become a weed. Not browsed by deer.
Leafstalks are edible. To prepare them for harvest, blanch them by gathering leaves together, tying them up, and wrapping them with paper to exclude light. Do this in late summer or early fall, 4 to 5 weeks before harvesting. To cook, cut the heavy leaf midribs into 3- to 4 inches lengths. Boil until almost tender, then saut; or boil till tender, and serve with butter or a sauce.