The Wild Artichoke is a thistle-like plant which is known in Maltese as Qaqoċċ tax-Xewk.
Indeed, this is a naturally occurring variant of the same species as the Globe Artichoke, and has many cultivated varieties – including the artichoke that the Maltese enjoy eating with bread, olives and capers. Common in Malta, and native to the Mediterranean, the Wild Artichoke, or Cynara cardunculus (its scientific name), has in fact been domesticated since ancient times.
Though found in garrigue and steppic grounds, it generally prefers clay soil. It grows to about 1m in height, with bright green leaves that are almost leather-like. While the leaves grow up to 70cm long and 40cm wide, they have rigid yellow spines, which are up to 4cm long at the tip of the leaf and more compact at its base. Interestingly, these spines protect the plant against herbivorous animals, discouraging them from feeding on it.
The notable flower-heads, which are numerous, may be bluish, violet-purple and occasionally whitish, and appear in late spring to early summer. They may be solitary or there may be several flower-heads on branched stems. The modified leaves just below these flower-heads each ends with a spine, and together form a solid spherical and ovate globe, which is greyish-green or purplish in colour.