Artichokes (Cynara scolymus) are technically perennials that normally produce the edible portion of the plant only during the second and subsequent years; however, varieties such as Emerald and Tavor (see below) can be grown from seed as annuals, producing a limited harvest at the end of the first growing season. The edible portion of the artichoke is actually buds that form within the flower heads before the flowers come into bloom. The buds disappear or change to a coarse, barely edible form if not harvested before the flowers bloom.
Artichokes grow 4½ to 6½ ft tall with arching, deeply-lobed, silvery-green leaves 20 to 32 inches long. When harvested, the flower heads are cut from the plant to leave an inch or two of stem. Artichokes possess good keeping qualities, frequently remaining quite fresh for two weeks or longer.
Leaves are often removed one at a time, and the fleshy base eaten with hollandaise, vinegar, butter, mayonnaise, lemon juice, or other sauces. The fibrous upper part of each leaf is usually discarded in order to get to the prized, concave-shaped artichoke heart.