The artichoke is a perennial in the thistle group of the sunflower family. The edible part of the artichoke plant is actually its flower bud. Artichokes come in three sizes: baby, medium and jumbo. Baby artichokes weigh 2 or 3 ounces, while jumbo artichokes can weigh as much as 20 ounces. There are more than 140 artichoke varieties.
While many different artichoke cultivars are available outside the United States, a single variety controls the U.S. market. Green Globe is the most widely grown variety of artichoke in California, the main commercial producer for artichokes in the country. The globe artichoke is globe-shaped, green with some purple as its base and has prominent thorns. It can be grown in southern California year-round, with peak availability in the spring.
Other U.S. Varieties
Beside Green Globe, other popular varieties of artichoke in the United States are Desert Globe, Big Heart, Emerald and Imperial Star. Desert Globe is a winter and early spring variety of artichoke. It is conical to round in shape, green in color and has thorns that are not prominent. Big Heart is a thornless variety of artichoke that is conical in shape and green with a purple tinge at its base. It is available year-round. Imperial Star is another thornless variety also available year-round. It is glossy green in color and generally conical in shape. Imperial Star has an edible stem.
The main producers of artichokes in Europe are Italy and France. Several varieties are available with a wide range of characteristics. Midi artichokes, for instance, which come from the South of France, have violet leaves. Varieties of Midi include Violet de Provence and Violet du Gapeau. Other examples of French varieties include Camus de Bretagne and Caribou, which come from Brittany. Varieties of artichokes from Italy tend to be more cylindrical or elliptical in shape with closed heads. Examples include Romanesco, Spinoso Sardo and Violetto di Toscana.
New Hybrid Varieties
New varieties of artichokes are being developed on a regular basis. Hybrid artichokes are tailored to provide specific advantages, such as lower disease incidence and better frost tolerance. Examples of hybrid artichokes recently developed in Algeria, for instance, include Concerto, a late variety designed to produce vigorous plants with conical-shaped buds that have closed heads, and Opal, an early variety of artichoke that offers the possibility of gaining a second harvest in warm areas.