QUESTION: Is artichoke a fruit or a vegetable? Should I consider which it is when planning my garden? -Wyatt R.
ANSWER: Artichokes are vegetable plants. Sometimes people wonder whether artichokes are fruits because they hear about artichoke plants producing flowers and equate flowers with fruit. However, many vegetable plants bloom: leeks, collard greens, lettuce, onions, garlic, and many other vegetable plants will produce flowers at the end of their growth period. To be specific, the part of the artichoke plant that we consume is a thistle—a flower like the one associated with Scotland.
In the window of time when the artichoke is edible, the thistle is immature. If gardeners leave the artichokes on the plant, they eventually blossom. The thistle flower that makes up the artichoke is actually an inflorescence, or a cluster of small flowers that have the appearance of one large bloom when grouped together.
Fruits are flowers that have been pollinated and are ready to distribute seeds, while most vegetables that are flowers are eaten prior to being pollinated. Another difference between fruit and vegetables is that with fruit, we consume the seed-bearing structure itself, and with vegetables, we consume parts of the plant other than the seed-bearing structure. With artichokes, the seeds are not yet developed at the time of consumption, and we consume the fleshy base and bracts that surround the area where the flowers will develop.