Myths, legends and cultivation of the onopordum Illyricum

The onopordo Maggiore has a very similar appearance to the Cardo, with large and robust leaves at the base in rosette; it is characterized by an erect scape covered with a white fluff. The flowers arrive during the summer season and are pink in color. The fruit of this plant is a cypsela that has furrows that develop transversely and has a bristly pappus. This plant is widespread above all on the northern side of the Mediterranean basin, especially in Portugal, Lebanon, Corsica, Sardinia and Sicily. Over time, Onopordum Illyricum was also introduced in California and Australia. It generally grows on roadsides and in uncultivated land.


The first thing to consider for the cultivation of this plant is the fact that pollination takes place by means of insects; we are therefore faced with entomogamous pollination. For cultivation, the advice is to prepare a seedbed with the arrival of spring and to wait to transplant the young plants until they are the right size. Where the plant grows spontaneously, it does not need great care, unless the foresight is to eliminate the dry parts from time to time. Generally speaking, the plants of spontaneous alimurgic species do not need particular care: it is the natural mother who does everything necessary to make them grow strong and vigorous.

Of the Onopordum Illyricum, the head of the leaves at the base and the unripe inflorescence are collected above all. To collect the head it is good to have a small hoe.

Diseases and treatments

Being a wild plant, the Onopordo Maggiore is not particularly prone to pests and diseases. It is in fact a very resistant species which, as mentioned, does not require particular attention.


In ancient times, this plant was considered a valid test for weddings. The girls of Milo, the locality of Etna, used the inflorescences of the Onopordo Maggiore to understand if their wedding was imminent or not. In particular, this custom was typical of the day of St. John: the unmarried girls went to collect the plant, cut off an inflorescence (better if not ripe) and buried it in a place known only to them. The next day they dug up the plant, crushed it and examined the color of the flowers: if the flowers were colored, then the wedding was near; if, on the contrary, the flowers were white, then the wedding day was still far away. Another little curiosity concerns its names. This plant is in fact also known by the name Trummazzi, or trumpets. This name depends on the fact that when the inflorescences and flowers dry they take on an appearance very similar to trumpets. Onopordum Illyricum can also be called Donkey Thistle, a name that derives from its alleged carminative effects which, according to the ancients, it had on donkeys.

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