August 17, 2017

Not from Jerusalem, Not an Artichoke

Helianthus tuberosus - Jerusalem artichoke or sunchoke

Janine Pineo Photo | Helianthus tuberosus – Jerusalem artichoke or sunchoke

There’s nothing more difficult than a common name that seemingly has nothing to do with the plant at which you are looking. Such is the case with Helianthus tuberosus, better known as Jerusalem artichoke. Native to North America, including Maine, this member of the sunflower family is known for its sunny flower and edible tuber, which resembles ginger root and is considered a root vegetable. The plant can reproduce through seed or tuber, which can grow a whole new plant from just a piece of the tuber. That makes the plant fairly invasive, which you can see in the hedge of them growing at Garden Maine’s grandmother’s house Down East; only mowing keeps them under control. As for that name, it is thought that the Jerusalem stemmed from the Italian girasole for sunflower. And the artichoke harkens back to none other than Samuel de Champlain, the French explorer who came across them in 1605 being grown on Cape Cod. He sent them back to his homeland and compared the flavor of the tuber to that of an artichoke. In more recent years, the plant has acquired the name sunchoke, trying to eliminate the confusion. Well, for our part, we like to be confused when it has such a nice back story.

A hedge of Helianthus tuberosus - Jerusalem artichoke or sunchoke

Janine Pineo Photo | A hedge of Helianthus tuberosus – Jerusalem artichoke or sunchoke