Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum)

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Botanical name: Smyrnium olusatrum L.
Family: Apiaceae = Umbelliferae
Common names. English: alexanders, alisander, maceron; Spanish: apio caballar, apio equino, apio macedónico, perejil macedónico, esmirnio, olosatro, cañarejo; Portuguese and Galician: salsa de cavalo, cegudes, apio dos cavalos, roses de pé de piolho; Catalan: api cavallar, abil de siquia, julivert de moro, cugul, aleixandri

Origin of the name

This is the hipposelinon of the Greeks, a word which means parsley or "horse celery". In Arabic, during the Andalusian period, it was called karats barri, one of the various karats (celeries) known by Hispano-Arab agronomists, different from cultivated celery (Apium graveolens), aquatic celery (A. nudiflorum) and mountain or rock celery (the Greek and Latin petroselinum or oreoselinon). Alexanders has always been identified as oriental or Macedonian, very possibly as a reference to its geographical origin and its allochthonous character.

Properties, uses and cultivation

Its use as a medicinal plant is very old. The Greek botanist Theophrastus (fourth century BC) made reference to the plant. Dioscorides (first century) also included it in his Materia medica, commenting that its roots and leaves were edible. According to this author, its seed, taken with wine, is an emmenagogue. However, Galen said that it was less active than celery. In the Córdoba of the caliphs, Maimonides also spoke of its powers. During the Middle Ages, it was constantly considered as a plant with diuretic, depurative and aperient properties, particularly through its root. However, its most outstanding quality was perhaps as an antiscorbutic because of its high vitamin C content. The fruit has carminative and stomachic properties. In the eighteenth century, it continued to maintain its reputation as a medicinal plant, as the Flore économique des plantes qui croissent aux environs de Paris described it in 1799.

The plant, and especially the leaves, have a smell and flavour similar to myrrh. Hence the origin of the word smyrnion, its generic name. Columela (first century) refers to the plant as "myrrh of Achaea", because it was grown in Greece, which the Romans called Achaica or Achaea. It is also because of its characteristic flavour and smell that it is used as a condiment; it is used to season food in a similar way to parsley, giving flavour to soups and stews, and to prepare sauces accompanying meat and fish. However, its commonest use has been as a fresh vegetable, with a preference being shown for its leaves, young shoots and leaf stalks, which impart a pleasant flavour similar to celery, although somewhat sharper. It has also been eaten cooked. The Latin word olusatrum, which means "black vegetable", reflects these uses. The roots were used preserved in a sweet-and-sour pickle. The fruit contains an essential oil, cuminal, which is reminiscent of cumin.

The history of its cultivation is surprising. Of all the Umbelliferae used as vegetables, alexanders has been one of the commonest in gardens for many centuries, although in the nineteenth century it was almost completely forgotten. It was probably being gathered before the Neolithic period and was already being grown as early as the Iron Age. It became very popular during the time of Alexander the Great (fourth century BC) and was widely grown by the Romans, who certainly introduced it into western and central Europe, including the British Isles. It is now naturalized in these regions and on the Iberian Peninsula.

Columela elaborates on its cultivation and methods of consumption: "Before alexanders puts out stems, pull up its root in January or February and, after shaking it gently to remove any soil, place it in vinegar and salt; after 30 days, take it out and peel off its skin; otherwise, place its chopped pith into a new glass container or jar and add juice to it as described below. Take some mint, raisins and a small dry onion and grind them together with toasted wheat and a little honey; when all this is well ground, mix with it two parts of syrup and one of vinegar and put it like this into the aforementioned jar and, after covering it with a lid, place a skin over it; later, when you wish to use it, remove the pieces of root with their own juice and add oil to them."

Isidoro de Sevilla (sixth century [1982]) seems to attach less importance to alexanders.

In France, it was an important vegetable, and was grown on the estates of the Carolingian kings. Thus, in the Capitular de Villis, promulgated by Louis the Pious, son of Charlemagne (around AD 795), alexanders appears among the plants which should be cultivated. In the eighteenth century, in Versailles, it was used blanched to accompany winter salads. In the early nineteenth century, Rozier, in his Dictionnaire universel d'agriculture pratique, writes: "The leaves of alexanders can appear among cooking condiments, like parsley. Its roots and young shoots are still eaten in England after blanching in the same way as celery."

There is documentation on its cultivation in Belgium in the fifteenth century and on its abundance in English gardens in the sixteenth century. The Italians also traditionally used this plant. However, by about the eighteenth century its cultivation was only very occasional or had fallen into disuse. In Spain, Font Quer (eighteenth century [1990]) says that its root was eaten in many countries as a salad, raw and cooked, as were the stems and young leaves. By the nineteenth century, Spanish agronomists were no longer making any reference to it. Thus, Boutelou and Boutelou (1801) do not mention it, an omission which contrasts with the 13 pages devoted to celery cultivation.

Alexanders was falling into disuse as from the seventeenth century, in direct competition with the "celery of the Italians", an improved form of wild celery (Apium graveolens). This is a case of marginalization in which one plant, doubtless widely used since prehistory, is replaced by another one improved later.

Botanical description

Alexanders is a biennial herbaceous plant with a thick elongated root. The stems grow up to 150 cm and hollow on fruiting. It has large, pinnatisect, basal leaves, with ovate to subrhombic terminal segments; the caulinar leaves are pinnatisect. The umbels have seven to 22 rays, with black, didymous fruit measuring 5.5 to 7.5 x 4 to 7.5 mm. Alexanders flowers from April to June and propagates well from seed. Its chromosome structure is 2n = 2x = 22.

Ecology and phytogeography

Wild populations of alexanders grow abundantly in salt-marshes and uncultivated land near the sea, nominally in lime soils. It is also found in hedges, woods and on waysides.

It is spontaneous throughout southern Europe, North Africa (Algeria) and in the Near East. In former times it was very abundant in the area around Alexandria. Vavilov (1951) places this crop in the Mediterranean gene centre.

It also occurs on the Canary Islands and in the rest of the Macronesian region.

Genetic diversity

Perfoliate alexanders (Smyrnium perfoliatum L.) has smaller fruit (3.5 mm long) and is distributed through central and southern Europe and southwest Asia. The blanched stems and leaves are used in salads. Its cultivation is documented in the sixteenth century. According to Mathon (1986), this species is of superior quality.

Nowadays it is very difficult to find cultivars of alexanders. However, several cultivated varieties must have existed. For example, in England in 1570, Petrus Pena and Mathius Lobel wrote: "...the cultivated form is far better than the wild plant...". It seems that the plant is still occasionally grown in Great Britain.

Accessions of this species are kept only in the gene bank of the Córdoba Botanical Garden. They are from wild populations in Andalusia.

Cultivation practices

According to Columela, "alexanders must be grown from seed in ground dug out with a pastino, particularly close to walls because it likes shade and thrives on any kind of ground: so once you have sown it, if you do not uproot it fully but leave its stems for seed instead, it lasts forever and requires only light hoeing. It is sown from the feast day of Vulcan (August) until the calends of September, but also in January...".

Nowadays, since cultivation has been relegated to a few family gardens, similar practices are frequently seen. The stem is left to seed, and sowing and spontaneous cultivation takes place. Something like this usually occurs with chard: weeds are removed and a little fertilizer is applied.

Modernization of this crop will depend on techniques similar to those used for celery, including blanching, taking into account the fact that alexanders requires less soil and water.

Prospects for improvement

Celery was also known from antiquity but was considered to be an inedible plant of ill omen. The Greeks, who called it apion, used it in funeral ceremonies. It appears to have been grown early in our era by the Latins. Columela refers to it: "...after the ides of May, nothing must be put in the earth when summer approaches, except for celery seed, which must nevertheless be watered, since in this way it does very well...". Paladio also mentions it, probably basing himself on the earlier source. Likewise, in the Capitular de Villis (eighth century) reference is made to both apium and olisatum. Throughout this period, cultivation of alexanders seems to be predominant.

Around the seventeenth century, types of celery appeared which were derived through breeding to obtain a better size and improved succulence of the leaf stalks (var. dulce (Mill.) Gaud.-Beaup.) or fuller leaf development (var. secalinum Mill.) and which were clearly differentiated from the wild plant. These types are actually different vegetables requiring specific cultivation practices. Thus sweet-leaved celery ("celery of the Italians") is well suited to "blanching", which enables a milder, more tender. product to be obtained.

The marginalization or disuse of many vegetables used since ancient times in Europe may be connected with the changing tastes in the Western world. The trend has been away from dishes rich in spices and hot ingredients towards milder dishes, which respect the flavour of the food itself or enhance it. This is perhaps the case with celery vis-à-vis alexanders. Alexanders is more bitter and pungent and not as tender as sweet celery.

It is significant in this respect that the last agronomic references to the cultivation of alexanders mention the introduction of the blanching technique. It appears thus in the reports by Versailles and Abbot Rozier: "...after they have been blanched in the same way as celery..."; and Barral and Sagnier, in Diccionario de agricultura (1889), write: " Turkey the cultivation of this plant is still an honour. The leaf is eaten after it has been blanched...". The blanching technique also used to be employed in North America. It is obvious that the smaller plant, celery, had asserted itself and now served as a reference, making it necessary to adopt the same cultivation practice for alexanders, evidently with little success.

While cultivation of alexanders is waning, cultivation of celery is by contrast on the increase, as is its importance in cool subtropical and tropical areas of Latin America and the Far East. Petiolate cultivars with big leaves are chiefly used.

The recovery of alexanders would be achieved via the derivation of plant materials with a specific typology, for specific uses, and the development of associated agronomic techniques; this seems very unlikely.

Scorzonera (Scorzonera hispanica)

Botanical name: Scorzonera hispanica L.
Family: Asteraceae
Common names. English: scorzonera, Spanish salsify, black oyster plant, viper's grass; Spanish: escorzonera, escorcionera, escurzo, yerba viperina, salsifí negro, salsifí hispánico, churrimana, tetas de vaca; Catalan: escurçonera; Basque: sendaposei, astobe-harri; Portuguese and Galician: escorcioneira, escorzoneira

Properties, uses and cultivation

Scorzonera has diuretic and depurative properties. The root has restorative and sudorific properties and is an ingredient of many infusions. It is very rich in carbohydrates (18 to 20 percent in fresh weight), with a high proportion of inulin and laevulin, which makes it very suitable for a diabetic diet. It also contains conopherin (glucoside), asparagine, arginine, histidine and choline.

In upper Aragon, the latex is added to milk as a cure for colds. Its ground, fresh leaves are used against viper bites to soothe the pain. Its peeled root, fresh or cooked, acts as a tonic for the stomach and fortifies the body.

It is considered to be an antidote to the bite of poisonous animals, for which reason in Spanish it is called "escorzonera", i.e. herb against escuerzo [toad]. The Diccionario de la lengua española of the Real Academia Española mentions that the name derives from the Latin "black root" because of its external colour. In Italian, too, scorza means "root" and nera "black". However, as documented in Mattioli's Epistolarium medicinalium libri quinque, published in 1561, the first interpretation seems correct.

Cultivation of this plant is thought to be recent. No Roman or Arab agronomist mentions it. In Spain, its cultivation is not dealt with either by Andalusian agronomists (tenth to fourteenth centuries) or Castilian writers of treatises in the sixteenth century. The same applies in other countries. In France, it is not mentioned in the Capitular de Villis of the Carolingian kings, nor does. Olivier de Serves, Henry IV's minister, mention it. It was from the sixteenth century onwards that botanists began to concern themselves with this species, describing it as wild, although sometimes introduced into botanical gardens. It is not quoted as a cultivated plant until up to one century later. In time, it was to become fashionable in several countries. Thus Louis XIV of France was very fond of it.

Although scorzonera was perhaps first cultivated in Spain, its cultivation has never been very important in the country. Boutelou and Boutelou (1801) commented: "Scorzonera is usually sown on the edges of unoccupied beds, the empty spaces being profitably used by this tasty root", thereby demonstrating a marginal rather than a main crop.

On the other hand, it is curious that these same authors visualized a greater agricultural importance for white salsify than scorzonera, contrary to what actually happened. Thus, they thought that "...sometimes the roots of scorzonera can begin to be used the first year after sowing, but they are so thin that there is no point in wasting them so young. They require two or sometimes three years for their root to form. Salsify, which has the same taste and properties and which forms in one year, should be preferred because it requires less time in the ground and its product is much more plentiful." The main improvement activity on this crop has enabled some good cultivars to be obtained, with a greater growth rate and better yields than salsify in annual cultivation.

The part of the plant most used is the tender, fleshy root. It is peeled and then cut into pieces and placed in water with lemon to prevent it from turning black. It can then be eaten in a wide variety of exquisite dishes: raw in a salad; dressed with vinaigrette or with other sauces, steamed and served with Béarnaise or Béchamel sauce or with whole milk cream and toast; sautéed in butter with parsley or other herbs; boiled as an accompaniment for meat; grated with cheese; baked with tomato and roast mutton or pork, fried with oil or butter after being lightly cooked and served with lemon; scrambled with eggs or in omelettes; and preserved in sugar.

It is recommended that, once cooked, the roots should be peeled so that they do not lose their flavour.

The leaves can also be eaten, especially the young ones after boiling. The "beards" - young, fresh and tender leaves - can also be eaten raw.

The young shoots are used in the same way as asparagus.

The flowers are added to salads as a flavouring. They have an aroma reminiscent of cocoa. For this purpose, the flowers of other species such as S. mollis and S. undulata are also used. The flower buds can be used too. Recipes exist for scorzonera flower omelene.

Botanical description

Scorzonera is a perennial plant with a long, fragile taproot, which is blackish on the outside and white and milky inside, and which increases in size each year. The stems are solitary or few in number, usually branched on the upper part and between 30 and 120cm long. The leaves are broad, long, fleshy and spatulate. The yellowish flowers are in capitula at the end of the stems. Flowering is in spring and summer (April-June).

Propagation is from seed. The achenes are 10 to 20 mm long, cylindrical, whitish and rough, with a pappus that has several rows of hairs. The weight of 75 to 90 seeds is 1 g, the weight of one litre of them is around 580 g. Under ordinary storage conditions they maintain a high germination capacity for two to three years.

It has a diploid chromosome number: 2n = 14. In the var. crispatula, some polyploids have been detected: 2n = 4x = 28.

Ecology and phytogeography

Scorzonera grows on dry pasture, rocky areas, in thickets and on limy or marry soils of temperate zones.

It is distributed over central and southern Europe and the south of the CIS, although it is not found in Sicily or Greece or in northwestern Africa or southwest Asia. It probably originates from the Mediterranean region and is native to Spain.

The plant is little cultivated outside Europe. Most cultivation takes place in the gardens of amateurs, with the plant being cultivated in professional gardens on a very small scale. Some estimates put cultivation at only a few dozen hectares. The countries with the biggest cultivated area of scorzonera are Belgium, Poland and members of the CIS.

At present, its cultivation is practically unknown in Spain. Although it is subject to the Technical Regulations on the Control and Certification of Agricultural Seeds and Plants, there is no evidence of the seed being marketed in Spain in recent years.

Genetic diversity

The modern Scorzonera genus, which is very close to Tragopogon, only includes three sections (Podospermum, Scorzonera and Lasiospora) with some 28 species in Europe. The majority of them are perennial diploid plants with 2n = 2x = 14. Cytotypes also exist with 2n = 2x = 12, x = 6 being derived from the earlier type through translocation.

In Spain, some 13 species are to be found. The majority of them prefer dry soils. This is the case with S. angustifolia L., S. transtagana Coutinho, S. hirsuta L., S. crispatula (Boiss.) Boiss. and S. brevicaulis Vahl. S. parviflora Jacq. is found predominantly on saline soils; S. Iaciniata L. on alkaline soils; S. aristata Ramond ex DC. is calcicolous and is found only in meadows and other grassy places of the Pyrenees, the Alps and Apennines; S. fistulosa Brot. del W. in Portugal and southwestern Spain. S. humilis L., dwarf scorzonera, grows very widely in Europe, while S. baetica (Boiss.) Boiss., S. albicans Cosson and S. reverchonii Deveaux ex Hervier are found only in southern Spain.

Scorzonera (S. hispanica L.) is extremely variable, especially in its leaf shape. The botanical varieties recognized are crispatula Boiss. (S. crispatula (Boiss.) Boiss.), which is very widespread, and pinnatifida (Rouy) Díaz de la Guardia & Blanca, which is relatively rare; they are basically distinguishable through their leaf morphology.

Numerous commercial cultivars already exist, and there are generally populations with open pollination:

· Gigante de Rusia, with a regular cylindrical, very long and smooth root and a very black skin. Various selections derive from it, such as Gigante negra de Rusia, Gigante anual, Annual Giant Bomba, Russisk Kaempe, etc.
· Lange Jan, which is of good quality.
· Elite Stamm, which is productive, stable, with a high yield of superior size roots.
· Schwarze Pfahl, which is similar to Elite Stamm.
· Pronora, which has well-formed roots, a smooth skin and, when canned, a good colour and flavour. It is especially suitable for industrial processing.
· Vulcan, Duplex and Pilotis, which are suitable for the frozen foods industry.
· Hoffman 83, Flandria, Nero, Duro and Habil are also good cultivars.

There are collections of local races and old cultivars at the Rijksstation voor Plantenveredling de Merelbeke (Belgium), at the Nordic Gene Bank in Alnarp (Sweden) and at the Vavilov Institute of Industrial Plants, St Petersburg.

Cultivation practices

Scorzonera is a vegetable that resists drought well when the plant has already developed.

It has similar cultivation requirements to white salsify. It is a typically winter vegetable which, although perennial, is grown as an annual.

It is usually sown direct in early spring, in shallow furrows, with 25 to 35 cm x 12 to 15 cm spacing. Care must be taken to provide protection from birds, which are very fond of these seeds.

About 12kg of seed per hectare is required. Deep, fresh, loose soil is needed; it must be rich in decomposed organic matter and free from stones or gravel, which cause root deformation. The basal dressing recommended is 30 tonnes per hectare of rotted manure, 50 units of N, 100 units of P2O5 and 200 to 250 units of K2O).

Attention must be paid to the first irrigations and hoeings, which can be controlled chemically, both at pre-emergence and post-emergence, with CIPC. It prefers sunny soils and the presence of easily assimilable nitrogen of which an additional 50 units can be applied as a top-dressing.

Harvesting takes place from November to March and requires perhaps more care than the harvesting of white salsify, since the roots are very fragile. This means furrows of about 40 cm have to be opened parallel to the rows of roots. Storage is good, both on the actual cultivation land and in cold stores at between 0 and -1°C, possibly for two to three months, or frozen, with light industrial processing to clean, peel, cut and scald the vegetables to prevent oxidation.

Yields of around 20 to 30 tonnes per hectare have been obtained.

The most important diseases are mycosis, white rust, oidiopsis and strangulation and splitting of the roots, the aetiology of which is unknown.

Prospects for improvement

Although it is thought that this vegetable is very little cultivated in Spain, because it has not been introduced into Iberian cooking, it should be recognized that serious cultivation problems still exist.

Although scorzonera is more productive than salsify and its cultivation more frequent, the two crops have many problems in common:

· a prolonged cultivation cycle, with garden space being occupied for an excessively long time;
· susceptibility to bolting, even during the first year of cultivation - although this does not hollow the root or impair its quality, it does affect yield, making systematic cuts of the flower stems necessary;
· poor seed storage;
· slow emergence and the need for a constant level of moisture;
· very laborious harvesting, since deep trenches have to be opened because the roots are very long and fragile;
· high nitrate content.

Some of these problems have already been tackled or are on the way to being solved. Thus, Schwarze Pfahl is more resistant to bolting than Elite Stamm.

Einjährige Riesen is particularly resistant to bolting and produces a low percentage of roots with cavities. However, it does not attain the yields of the former. Since genetic variability in respect of the character exists within commercial cultivars, rapid progress in improving this cultivar may be expected.

In Belgium, material is being selected which is especially suited to mechanical sowing and harvesting. Lange Jan, Hoffman 83 and Flandria were the ones which contributed the best product qualities among the cultivars tested.

In Poland, work is being done on the development of cultivars suited to industrial processing (both canning and freezing); some cultivars display a good behaviour in this respect.

Insofar as these improvement objectives are achieved, scorzonera may be expected to begin acquiring greater economic importance. It should not be forgotten that it is a vegetable with a very delicate flavour; its glucide composition is rich in inulin, very unlike other tubers and roots rich in carbohydrates, for instance the potato which has a high starch content. This property may be the reason for the increase in demand and price.

Spotted golden thistle (Scolymus maculatus)

Botanical name: Scolymus maculatus L.
Family: Asteraceae = Compositae
Common names. English: spotted golden thistle; Spanish: tagarnina, diente de porro; Portuguese: escólimo-malhado

Origin of the name and properties

The generic name derives from the Greek, skolos, meaning spines, a characteristic shared with many other Compositae. In ancient Greece, a thistle with an edible root was known by the name skolymos. Diuretic and antisudorific properties were attributed to these plants.

Spotted golden thistle has occasionally been cultivated, but generally the wild plant has been used, with harvesting being limited to the leaves only in spring. At present, its cultivation is very restricted and is tending to disappear.

Cervantes did not seem to set great store by this plant: "...I do not have a stomach made for spotted golden thistle, nor for piruétanos, nor for roots of the forests." However, the fleshy parts of the young leaves, like those of Spanish oyster plant, constitute a delicious vegetable which can be used in soups, stews and scrambled eggs or as an accompaniment for meat. Baked au gratin, they make an excellent dish.

Botanical description

Spotted golden thistle is an annual, glabrescent plant with latex. The stems are 20 to 130 cm long, broadly wing-shaped, irregularly dentate and spiny. The leaves, bracts and wings of the stem have a white and continuous cartilaginous edge. The basal leaves are oblong-lanceolate, smooth and pinnatifid, with few spines. The pinnatifid caulinar leaves are sinuate, more or less oval and spiny. The bracts are lanceolate, involucral and are more than five in number. The capitula are golden yellow, solitary or in clusters of two to four and flower from May to June. The achenes are of 3 to 4 mm and without a pappus. The chromosome number is 2n = 2x = 20.

The plant is propagated from seed. Its behaviour is orthodox in storage and its germination capacity is maintained for a long time. Dormancy phenomena are not very pronounced.

Ecology and phytogeography

Spotted golden thistle is found on uncultivated land, in abandoned fields and ditches and along paths and waysides. It prefers clayey soils and temperate climates.

It is distributed through southern Europe, Southeast Asia, North Africa and the Macronesian region. It is a native plant of the Mediterranean region. In Spain, it grows very widely throughout the country, including the Canary Islands.

It is occasionally cultivated in some areas of the Maghreb, southern Italy and Greece. In Spain, cultivation has practically disappeared.

Genetic diversity

The genus Scolymus L. includes another two Mediterranean species with a use similar to that of the spotted golden thistle, the Spanish salsify or Spanish oyster plant (S. hispanicus L.), with a wide Mediterranean distribution, and S. grandiflorus Desf., with a more restricted distribution in the eastern Mediterranean. These are very close species which differ in the leaf margin and wings of the stem and in the involucral bracts, among other characters. Unlike the spotted golden thistle, these Spanish salsify oyster plants are biennial or perennial.

A great morphological variability is observed, but no collections of material are known.

Cultivation practices

The spotted golden thistle is a very hardy plant which prefers clayey soils, although it grows spontaneously in a wide variety of environments. It tolerates cold and drought.

The method of cultivation is similar to that of Spanish salsify, although the latter thrives better on looser soils. Sowing is direct into the soil ready for cultivation, in late winter, with furrows 30 cm apart. After thinning, the plants are spaced 30 cm apart. It is preferable to apply organic fertilizer beforehand. The usual cultivation practices are very simple, being limited to removing weeds.

With hot temperatures, the plant grows very rapidly, with the basal rosette forming quickly, at which time the leaves have to be harvested.

Prospects for improvement

Spotted golden thistles, like Spanish salsify or oyster plants, are practically unknown vegetables on the market. However, they are appreciated in many Spanish regions on account of their very pleasant flavour. As in the case of so many other crops, its revival will have to be accompanied by a marketing system which creates demand. This means publicity campaigns, utilization standards, recipes for traditional dishes, etc., as well as a product of sufficient quality being available on the markets. The fleshy leaf parts would have to be offered peeled and clean and suitably packaged.

From the point of view of improvement, one of the most serious problems of the spotted golden thistle is the ease with which it goes into flower, encouraged by long-day spring conditions and high temperatures. Selection for resistance to this process would increase the cultivation period and make it possible to improve yields of the basal rosette. The plant's general spininess is another problem.

Undoubtedly, the most urgent task is to carry out collecting expeditions in the Mediterranean basin, including the Maghreb, and to characterize the material collected as a starting point for improvement. At the present time it is already very difficult to find traditional cultigens.

This problem is not limited to the spotted golden thistle and Spanish salsify, or even to the genus Scolymus, but affects many other Compositae. For example, the tribe Carduaceae contains 80 genera with over 2 650 species, 227 of which are found in Spain and 150 of which are endemic in the country. Many of these plants have agricultural value and have occasionally been cultivated. In the majority of cases, cultivation is on the decline, even though it is being maintained. The recovery of these genetic resources, the characterization of the materials and the initiation of improvement programmes could contribute towards diversification, both of production and supply, thus helping to make Spanish agriculture more competitive.

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