A Wild Cardoon on the West Slope

I was in the fennel forest on the west slope of the park, taking videos of birds eating fennel seeds, when these giant fuzzy seed heads caught my eye.   I’ve not seen anything like them in the park.

This plant stood as high as my head.  Some of the dried flowers were almost as large in diameter as my fist.  The leaves had wilted and shriveled to a point that defied description.  My cellphone app, Pl@ntNet, suggested Cardoon (cynara cardunculus) or Blessed Milkthistle (Sylibum marianum).  On checking the internet, especially the long article in Wikipedia, my guess is Cardoon.

You really have to read the Wikipedia article to appreciate the history, cultivation, and many gastronomical uses of this plant.  It’s also called the artichoke thistle or globe artichoke.  It’s native to the Mediterranean.  There are many wild as well as cultivated varieties.  It’s a prized vegetable in French, Spanish, Italian, Algerian, and Tunisian cuisines, among others.  It’s used in cheese making.  In the UK it has gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.

In Australia and California, it’s considered an invasive weed.

Well, of course, in Cesar Chavez Park, a classification as invasive weed is almost a prerequisite for survival.  The fact that it has managed to grow surrounded by and literally intertwined with fennel testifies to a tenacious will to live.  I wish it well.

How this plant got here we’ll probably never know. The massive seed heads release light, spidery seeds by the thousands.   It might well have blown in with a wind.