Asteraceae: a large upright biennial to 2m, with furrowed, cottony and unwinged stems. Found on calcareous grassland. The flower heads are 6-7cm across, comprising reddish-purple florets topping a ball coated with cottony bracts, in solitary heads, blooming from July-September. The seeds have feathery hairs attached. The leaves are pinnate, spiny, and cottony below. A spectacular but sadly not all that common in the British Isles, found locally, mainly in the south. Native to Central Europe, from Britain, France and Holland to the Balkans and Upper Volga.
The young stems can eaten raw or cooked. An asparagus or rhubarb substitute. The stems are peeled and soaked in water to remove the bitterness, they are then said to be excellent eating. The flower buds can be cooked, and used as a globe artichoke substitute, but they are much smaller and even fiddlier.
Sow seeds early spring or autumn in situ. Germination usually takes place within 2-8 weeks at 20°C. An easily grown plant, succeeding in any ordinary garden soil in a sunny position.