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Mr. Smarty Plants - Non-native, invasive Arctium minus in New York

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Tuesday - June 13, 2006

From: Tonawanda, NY
Region: Northeast
Topic: Non-Natives
Title: Non-native, invasive Arctium minus in New York
Answered by: Dean Garrett

QUESTION:

For as long as I can remember, my family has been picking and eating a wild plant which we and other Italian families call " cardoons". I've often heard to it referred to burdock but no one knows the exact name and I would really like to know what it is. The plant has a very broad leaf and a stalk that resembles that of a celery stalk. Where we live in the northeast, these plants seem to appear in the late spring and again in the mid-summer. Any help in the identification of this plant would be greatly appreciated.

ANSWER:

My Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines cardoon as “a large perennial plant (Cynara cardunculus) related to the artichoke and cultivated for its edible root and leafstalks.” In the photos I've found, it doesn't appear to have the large leaves you describe, but the drawing in the last link shows a sort of celery-like stalk. It is also known as wild artichoke or thistle artichoke.

Burdock is defined as “any of a genus (Arctium) of coarse composite herbs bearing globular flower heads with prickly bracts.” Arctium minus, common burdock, is the most common species in North America. Its root has been commonly used for food in various places and time periods.

Both are very invasive Eurasian species that were introduced into the Americas as garden vegetables, but of the two only Arctium minus would likely be growing wild in New York. Though also edible, wild-growing Cynara cardunculus is quite prickly; you probably would have said it looked like a thistle if that's what you'd seen.

The word cardoon is derived from a Latin word for thistle, artichoke, or chard and was thus likely applied over time to several plants.
 

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