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Artichokes are in fact nothing other than very large, glorified thistles. They bloom into beautiful purple-pink flowers if their buds are not eaten while still tender buttons.
Most artichokes grown commercially in the U.S. today are grown in the neighborhood of Castroville, California, home of the annual Castroville Artichoke Festival.
There are at least 100 varieties of Artichokes, and most of them were developed in Italy. The kind common in the U.S., the globe artichoke, is chosen in part because of the harmless quality of its spines. Some of the varieties favored in other countries are covered in nasty, prickly, spines that can make the preparation of a cartofi ciobaneasca into a tragic experience for the careless cook.