- Bronze Fennel ‘Purpureum’
- Foeniculum vulgare purpureum, Bronze Fennel
- What is it?
- Plant it with?
- And where?
- Any drawbacks?
- What else does it do?
- Bronze Fennel: The Edible Herb that Keeps on Giving
- Bronze fennel, an incredible edible, is the perfect fix for the seedy side of your garden where nothing else dares to grow
Bronze Fennel ‘Purpureum’
View this plant in a garden
Average Water Needs; Water regularly; do not overwater
Grown for foliage
24-36 in. (60-90 cm)
36-48 in. (90-120 cm)
15-18 in. (38-45 cm)
USDA Zone 4a: to -34.4 °C (-30 °F)
USDA Zone 4b: to -31.6 °C (-25 °F)
USDA Zone 5a: to -28.8 °C (-20 °F)
USDA Zone 5b: to -26.1 °C (-15 °F)
USDA Zone 6a: to -23.3 °C (-10 °F)
USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 °C (-5 °F)
USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 °C (0 °F)
USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 °C (5 °F)
USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 °C (10 °F)
USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 °C (15 °F)
USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 °C (20 °F)
USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 °C (25 °F)
Where to Grow:
Unknown – Tell us
This plant is attractive to bees, butterflies and/or birds
Unknown – Tell us
Late Spring/Early Summer
Late Summer/Early Fall
Unknown – Tell us
Soil pH requirements:
6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)
6.6 to 7.5 (neutral)
7.6 to 7.8 (mildly alkaline)
From seed; sow indoors before last frost
From seed; direct sow after last frost
Allow seedheads to dry on plants; remove and collect seeds
This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:
North Little Rock, Arkansas
San Anselmo, California
Saint Petersburg, Florida
Saint Louis, Missouri
Roswell, New Mexico
Elba, New York
Sag Harbor, New York
Elizabeth City, North Carolina
Saint Pauls, North Carolina
Wilmington, North Carolina
Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania
Charleston, South Carolina
North Augusta, South Carolina
Deer Park, Texas
New Caney, Texas
South Jordan, Utah
Foeniculum vulgare purpureum, Bronze Fennel
Fennel is often cultivated in the herb garden for its edible and medicinal uses. Especially in mild winters, the leaves can be available all year round.
It is best to cut a few plants back to ground level occasionally during the growing season, thus ensuring a constant supply of fresh young shoots. In a dry summer make sure that you water the cut-down clump or it might not regrow that year. Fennel is also grown commercially as a medicinal plant and for its essential oil.
Fennel is in general a poor companion plant in the garden. It inhibits the growth of nearby plants, especially beans, tomatoes and kohl rabi. It is itself inhibited by wormwood and coriander. However, the flowering plant attracts beneficial insects such as bees, parasitic wasps, tachinid flies and hoverflies to the garden. The presence of these creatures will help to maintain a natural balance of insects in the garden and help prevent infestations by aphis etc.
It is best not to grow fennel and dill (Anethum graveolens) close to each other since hybridisation can occur and the resulting seedlings will be of indeterminate flavour.
Fennel has a long history of herbal use and is a commonly used household remedy, being useful in the treatment of a variety of complaints, especially those of the digestive system.
Yellow and brown dyes are obtained from the flowers and leaves combined.
An easily grown plant, it succeeds in most soils but prefers a sunny dry position. It grows well in sandy soils and is drought tolerant once established. Plants often self-sow freely in the garden. Plants can be grown in quite coarse grass, which can be cut annually in the autumn.
Best sown in early spring in situ. The seed can also be sown in situ in the autumn. In many gardens it self sows freely.
Leaves – raw or cooked. A delicious aniseed flavour, the young leaves are best since older ones soon become tough. They are often used as a garnish on raw or cooked dishes and make a very pleasant addition to salads. They help to improve digestion and so are particularly useful with oily foods. The leaves are difficult to store dried, though this does not really matter since they can often be harvested all year round, especially if the plants are in a warm, sheltered position.
Leaf stalks and flower heads – raw or cooked. A similar aniseed flavour to the leaves. The aromatic seeds are used as a flavouring in cakes, bread, stuffings etc. They have a similar flavour to the leaves and also improve the digestion. The sprouted seeds can be added to salads. An essential oil from the fully ripened and dried seed is used as a food flavouring in similar ways to the whole seed.
Root – cooked. Somewhat parsnip-like.
The leaves or the seeds can be used to make a pleasant-tasting herbal tea.
What is it?
This plant ticks all the boxes for a garden all-rounder. For a start, it’s edible. And it’s a fast mover, popping up in spring after a winter rest and quickly reaching a height and spread of around 2m x 1m. The ferny, purple-brown foliage adds height and elegance to a border, and the yellow flowers in midsummer are irresistible to bees and hoverflies.
Plant it with?
Bronze fennel (Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’) can sit happily among the thyme and rosemary in a sunny herb garden, or hang out in an ornamental border with herbaceous perennials such as rust-coloured verbascum ‘Clementine’, dark red-leaved sedums, and Verbena bonariensis.
Plant it in fertile soil in a sunny spot. It will grow more lush in moist conditions, provided it’s not waterlogged; it will grow lean and mean in drier spots.
Bronze fennel will lavishly self-seed around if happy: to prevent this, remove the seedheads as they turn brown.
What else does it do?
Hang the seedheads up to dry and you can use your harvest in baking or add to spice mixes for meat. The fresh leaves are good with roast fish.
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Bronze Fennel: The Edible Herb that Keeps on Giving
Bronze fennel is a versatile, prolific edible that is easy to grow
Bronze fennel, an incredible edible, is the perfect fix for the seedy side of your garden where nothing else dares to grow
Sometimes as a gardener of edibles I’m a bit of an egomaniac. I want to grow what feeds my family, but secretly I want the garden to look jaw-droppingly gorgeous too. And if it does, even when it’s no thanks to me, I’ll take the credit with no reservations whatsoever.
Each year’s food garden has both its dynamic and dodgy moments, but there is invariably a particular high spot July through September when bronze fennel blazes upward, a mass of ferny garden architecture culminating in mustard-yellow crowns of blossoms followed by star-like webs of green and yellow seeds.
Uninvited, yet entirely welcome, this self-seeding plant has found its way into dusty corners of the yard where previously nothing dared to grow. And despite last year’s record-breaking drought, it didn’t wince despite virtually never being watered.
In fact, bronze fennel (Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’) is so hardy and prolific that it can be a bit of a problem in some gardens and even considered an invasive down south. And this may be due partly to the fact that in outlying areas even the deer don’t eat it.
With regard to my Pacific Northwest garden, my response to concerns about any over-zealousness is similar to what I say about parsley, kale and other eager edibles: if it’s overrunning the garden, you’re just not eating enough of it.
The Different Ways to Enjoy Fennel
The licorice-tasting seeds can be strewn over bread dough while the fronds add flavour to hearty winter soups (Left Image: Flickr / Adam Patterson)
And who knew that this magnesium-rich, digestion-enhancing mega-plant is so healthy and useful in the kitchen? I’ve used it for tea, drenching the foliage with hot water and sipping the licorice-laced liquid that follows. And I love chewing on the breath-freshening green and brown seeds. Once I put my mind to making good use of this plant, I found there was an almost unlimited list of how to savour this gift from the garden:
- Use seeds in breads and cakes.
- Add seeds and chopped fronds to salmon cakes.
- Finely chop the fronds over seafood and summer salads.
- Infuse oil with the foliage for a gourmet drizzle.
- Chop fronds over roasting potatoes or vegetables.
- Add fronds, seeds or stalk to fish stock.
- Grind the fronds with oil, salt and garlic into a pesto to slather over seafood or vegetables.
- Saute seeds with free-range turkey sausage to add to a tomato-based pasta sauce.
Other (Super-Easy) Savoury Seeds to Grow in Your Garden
Lovage: I’ve talked before about this garden superstar, edible from root to leaves to seeds. It tastes like celery and is a fabulous befriender of beneficial insects who flock to it. What I haven’t mentioned yet though is that its abundant umbels of seeds taste just like celery seed and are a tasty addition to pickles, nasturtium capers, artisan breads, crackers, fish and roasted free-range chicken.
Coriander: Let your cilantro go to seed and then crush the seeds to add to your Asian and Indian recipes.
Mustard: Allow a few of your mustard greens to go to seed and then gather them up for a spicy addition to pickles or a powdered punch for dressings.
For a less chewy approach, all seeds can be minced in a clean coffee grinder, or ground the old-fashioned way – with a mortar and pestle (and kids love to do this).
And when gathering seeds, simply cut the top end of the stalks and drop them face down into a paper bag. Store in your basement or garage to dry slowly and then shake the bag and pluck off the stubborn remaining seeds a few weeks later.
Originally published in BC Home & Garden magazine. For regular updates, subscribe to our free Home and Garden e-newsletters, or purchase a subscription to the magazine.
(Photo courtesy of NetPS Plant Finder)
Bronze Fennel in bloom
Bronze Fennel in bloom
(Photo courtesy of NetPS Plant Finder)
Plant Height: 30 inches
Flower Height: 4 feet
Spread: 3 feet
Hardiness Zone: 4
An ornamental herb grown for its airy, finely cut foliage that emerges burgundy and matures to a handsome bronzy mauve; a standout in the border with its wispy, smoky look, and is also great when massed
Bronze Fennel is a perennial herb that is typically grown for its edible qualities, although it does have ornamental merits as well. The fragrant ferny bluish-green leaves with showy coppery-bronze variegation and tinges of purple which emerge burgundy in spring are usually harvested from early summer to early fall. The leaves have a savory taste and a distinctive fragrance.
The leaves are most often used in the following ways:
Features & Attributes
Bronze Fennel has masses of beautiful yellow flat-top flowers held atop the stems in mid summer, which are most effective when planted in groupings. The flowers are excellent for cutting. Its attractive fragrant ferny leaves emerge burgundy in spring, turning bluish-green in color with showy coppery-bronze variegation and tinges of purple throughout the season.
This is an herbaceous perennial herb with tall flower stalks held atop a low mound of foliage. It brings an extremely fine and delicate texture to the garden composition and should be used to full effect. This plant will require occasional maintenance and upkeep, and is best cleaned up in early spring before it resumes active growth for the season. It is a good choice for attracting butterflies to your yard. Gardeners should be aware of the following characteristic(s) that may warrant special consideration;
Aside from its primary use as an edible, Bronze Fennel is sutiable for the following landscape applications;
- Mass Planting
- General Garden Use
- Herb Gardens
Planting & Growing
Bronze Fennel will grow to be about 30 inches tall at maturity extending to 4 feet tall with the flowers, with a spread of 3 feet. It grows at a fast rate, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live for approximately 4 years.
This plant is quite ornamental as well as edible, and is as much at home in a landscape or flower garden as it is in a designated edibles garden. It does best in full sun to partial shade. It does best in average to evenly moist conditions, but will not tolerate standing water. It is not particular as to soil type or pH. It is somewhat tolerant of urban pollution. This is a selected variety of a species not originally from North America.
Fennel is grown as an ornamental or a vegetable.
Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare, is a short-lived perennial with some types hardy in zones 4-9, but often grown as an annual in cooler climates. Native to southern Europe along the Mediterranean Sea, this plant in the carrot family (Apiaceae) has sweetly aromatic foliage and flavor similar to anise.
Florence fennel, grown for the bulb.
Fennel, anise and star anise all contain the aromatic compound anethole, which give these plants their similar taste and aroma. The biennial variety F. vulgare var. azoricum (sometimes incorrectly listed as F. vulgare dulce), Florence fennel or finocchio, usually grown as an annual, is smaller, with enlarged, flattened stem bases that form a bulbous structure that is eaten as a vegetable.
Fennel leaves are very finely dissected, giving the foliage a very feathery appearance.
Common fennel can grow up to 6 feet tall, but is often shorter than that. The smooth, dark green leaves are finely dissected with very narrow lobes, giving a feathery appearance to the foliage (similar to that of dill). Plants produce a deep, large white tap root.
Fennel often does not bloom until its second year (in mild climates where it will survive the winter) but dry weather may promote bolting in first year plants. The small, bright yellow flowers are produced in a terminal compound umbel at the top of the smooth, jointed, hollow stems. Each umbel section has 20–50 flowers on short pedicels. The flowers are very attractive to many beneficial insects including bees, small wasps, lacewings, and syrphid flies, as well as butterflies.
Plants bolt (L) to produce many compound umbels with yellow flowers (R).
Fennel in flower (many past flower, going to seed).
The seeds (botanically dry fruits) mature in the fall. Each elongate dark green to brown seed is ridged or grooved along its length. The seeds turn grey as they age. If seed is to be collected, the umbels should be cut as soon as they turn brown, before they shatter, and placed on screens or trays to complete drying.
The seeds can then be collect when they fall from the stems. In mild climates fennel readily reseeds, naturalizes, and can become invasive there, but in cooler climates it rarely escapes cultivation. Deadhead the plants to prevent unwanted reseeding.
Both the leaves and the stems are edible, with a light anise flavor.
Fennel is a multipurpose plant, grown both for culinary and ornamental use. The leaves, tender young shoots, stems, and seeds are used in various cuisines for flavoring and food. The fresh leaves are often used to flavor fish, egg dishes, or salads and can be used to make a tea. The leaves do not retain their flavor when dried, however. The young shoots or “bulb” (stem bases) of Florence fennel, which have a texture similar to celery, are eaten raw or cooked in salads or as a vegetable. The seeds are commonly used whole in Italian sausage and various pastries or confections. The ground seeds are a key ingredient of Chinese five-spice powder and Indian garam masala.
The fine texture of fennel contrasts well with other plants with coarser foliage.
The ferny foliage and upright habit of the plant makes this plant attractive when mixed with annuals or other herbaceous perennials in a cottage garden or mixed border. Use it to fill in bare spots, or plant several together as a focal point. The tall common fennel makes a nice backdrop for shorter plants. Combine it with butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), colorful gaillardia, or coneflowers. The flowers will create a color echo with goldenrod (Solidago spp.) and black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia spp.).
New foliage of Bronze fennel.
Bronze or copper fennel – cultivars with darker foliage, such as ‘Bronze’, ‘Giant Bronze’, ‘Purpureum’, or ‘Smokey’ – provide contrast in both color and foliar texture in ornamental plantings. The young foliage of these plants is purplish-bronze that fades to a dark green as it ages. The deep brownish-gold color of bronze fennel looks great near silver-leaved plants, such as sages or lamb’s ears. Fennel can be grown in large containers, but typically does better in the ground because of its deep root.
Fennel can be started from seed or bought as transplants.
Plant fennel in full sun in well-drained soil. It can be grown from seed or started plants transplanted into the garden (although they don’t transplant particularly well because of the tap root). Soak seeds for a day or two for better germination. Sow seeds about ¼ inch deep after the last frost in spring, or in mid-summer for a fall crop of Florence fennel (spring-sown plants are more likely to bolt).
They should germinate in 1-2 weeks. Thin to 4-6 inches apart when the plants are about 2 inches tall. In windy areas common fennel plants grown in rich soils may need staking, but often do not when grown in leaner soils so the plants do not grow as tall. Soil fertility affects flavor, as well, with less flavor in richer soil. Once established common fennel is drought tolerant.
Fennel does best in full sun.
Florence fennel does better in richer soils with more moisture than common fennel needs. The bulbs can be blanched by mounding soil up around the base as the enlarged part develops. The largest bulbs develop in warm, sunny, moist summers. Keep Florence fennel evenly moist, as dry conditions will promote blooming, which ruins the bulb. The bulb should be harvested once it is about the size of a tennis ball, before bolting.
Add fennel to mixed ornamental beds or in a vegetable or herb garden.
Fennel will tolerate light frost, so it does not need to be harvested early for summer-sown crops. Cut the “bulb” at the base and shoots may resprout from the root; these can be eaten while small.
Fennel has few pest problems other than root rot in very wet soils, but it is a host plant for anise swallowtail and black swallowtail caterpillars (especially the bronze types). It will cross-pollinate with dill, which creates and undesirable flavor in the seeds. The plant sap can cause skin irritation in sensitive individuals, especially when exposed to sun.
Ferula linkii, a relative of giant fennel, on the island of Lanzarote.
There are several cultivars of Florence fennel, including:
- ‘Cantino’ – bolt-resistant variety, so good for early planting.
- ‘Orion’ – vigorous hybrid growth and uniformity, and bulbs keep well after harvest; 80 days
- ‘Trieste’ – French hybrid matures in 90 days
- ‘Zefa Fino’ – bolt-resistant, producing large, firm bulbs in just 65 days
Giant fennel (Ferula communis), also native to the Mediterranean, is a much large, coarser plant, with a pungent aroma and is not edible. It is only occasionally grown in gardens.
– Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin – Madison