Bronze Fennel

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Bronze Fennel deconstructed: flower, stalk, stem, and leaves

Fennel is an exotic herb by American standards, and Bronze Fennel is even more rare. Blue Ribbon Bronze Fennel has the same fresh licorice taste as traditional Fennel so the two can be swapped one for the other in recipes. In the garnish category Bronze Fennel wins out, however, with its wispy, reddish-bronze leaves. Both Bronze and traditional Fennel are highly aromatic, exuding a sweet anise scent that is unmistakable.

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Pick leaves while they are young for the best flavor

Leaves and seeds of Fennel are edible and are used to flavor many dishes, particularly river fish like trout and vinaigrettes for salad. Fennel is also a prized ingredient for sausages. It shares its anise-like flavor with Tarragon, but the sweetness of the Fennel balances out the spicy bite of Tarragon like a teeter-totter. We’ve even seen Fennel used in baked goods—the seeds add a different twist to rye bread when used in place of caraway seeds.

Flowers of the Fennel plant are also edible. They can be used along with the fern-like leaves for a beautiful garnish you can eat, so we consider this herb an edible ornamental.

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Dark, smoky foliage adds a soft, airy mysterious look

You might say that Bronze Fennel is a pretty garnish for the garden. It’s best used as a mass planting because the plant likes to form a thicket. Give it plenty of space to call its own because Fennel reseeds easily. Plants can grow six to eight feet high and about four feet wide, eventually waving yellow disks of flowers high in the air.

Bronze Fennel, also known as ‘Purpureum’, has dark, smoky foliage that adds a soft, airy mysterious look to the border or containers. Some people like to keep it from blooming so it won’t reseed, but the graceful waving of the flowers adds a cottage garden feel to a planting, or a New Wave vibe to an avant-garde design.

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Bronze Fennel flowers in the style of Queen Anne’s Lace

Like Queen Anne’s Lace, Fennel belongs to the carrot family. While the taproot is not as impressive as a carrot, it is still thick and deep. Plants will last for several seasons, weathering winter but not time. Fennel has a short life span of only a few years.

Ornamental Herbs is a thing, and Bronze Fennel is a prime example. It’s a switch-hitter, working equally well in the kitchen bed, the mixed border, and the wildlife herb garden—that ferny, purple-brown foliage adds elegance and height.

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Emerging leaves look like little foxtails among the silver highlights

As we mentioned, it’s best to plant it en masse because it tends to form a thicket where the stems lean on each other and the leaves intertwine. Cut the thicket back halfway when it reaches waist high if you want a thicker, bushier, lower look. Unrestrained, the plant can get to six or seven feet tall.

Its wispy foliage and upright habit make Bronze Fennel attractive when combined 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. Tall Bronze Fennel makes a nice backdrop for shorter plants. Combine it with Asclepias tuberosa, colorful Gaillardia, and Echinacea, or create a color echo by pairing Bronze Fennel flowers with golden Solidago or Rudbeckia.

Cultivars with darker foliage provide contrast in both color and texture in ornamental plantings. Young leaves of Bronze Fennel are purplish-bronze that fades to dark green as they age. When the foliage is deep brownish-gold it looks great near silver-leaved plants such as Sage or Stachys. It can be grown in large containers but typically Bronze Fennel does better in the ground because of its deep root.

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Black swallowtail butterfly caterpillars love Bronze Fennel

You would be surprised how many herbs make effective pollinator plants if allowed to flower. Their ornamental value is raised by the fact that they provide lots of pollen and nectar to beneficial insects, often while adding fragrance to the garden at the same time.

Bronze Fennel is one of those herbs. You can include it in your wildlife herb garden, and sometimes you’ll find it in Butterfly Attractor collections. Along with Parsley, Dill, and other members of the carrot family it is an effective host plant for black swallowtail butterflies that pass through the Ohio River Valley. We find it interesting to watch the butterflies grow from caterpillar to adult. Some gardeners decide to add more Bronze Fennel plants simply to encourage more butterflies.

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A stand of thick stems supports a cloud of ferny leaves

Like most herbs, Bronze Fennel likes the sun, soil on the dry side, and more sun. Do not fertilize if you plan to use it for cooking—the extra growth dilutes the oils so the flavor is not as strong. Plants grown in dry, lean soil have the most intense flavor. Young leaves have the best flavor as well.

Bronze Fennel makes a unique accent in a vase arrangement and lasts a long time—plus it smells great.

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