The globe artichoke, also known by the names French artichoke and green artichoke in the U.S., is a variety of a species of thistle cultivated as a food. The edible portion of the plant consists of the flower buds before the flowers come into bloom.
Artichoke plants are herbaceious perennial plants, members of the Asteraceae family of plants, a group that includes thistles, dandelions, and sunflowers. They are short-lived perennials in warmer climates but are normally grown as annuals in cooler regions. Artichokes are usually grown for the edible flower buds, which are harvested before the flowers open. The leaves of artichokes are silver-green in color with a long, arching shape. Although the looks soft, these leaves can be quite prickly. The stems of the plant are thick and fleshy. The flower buds are what are sold in produce aisles. The bracts are tightly folded over the enclosed flower parts. If allowed to blossom on the plant, artichoke flowers open into large, dome- or muff-shaped purple thistles that are surprisingly fragrant.