A single variable species comprises the genus foeniculum vulgare, which is a prominent member of the botanical family Umbelliferae, making fennel a cousin of parsley, dill, and cilantro along with many other umbrella plants. And of the fennels, three forms occur: green fennel, bulb or Florence fennel (finocchio), and bronze fennel.
All are characterized by a slightly sweet anise, or licorice, flavor, and their seeds, bulbs, and branches are used to add interest to many kinds of food. The seeds can be harvested in the fall and used for cooking — some will re-seed and appear in the spring as new fennel plants.
Bronze fennel, with its unusual dark purplish foliage, is a great and colorful garnish, especially when the stems are grilled with meats and vegetables. An additional element of gardening delight results from the attractiveness of bronze fennel to the black swallowtail butterfly, for which all the fennels are larval food. And the lovely stems add color and fine texture to flower arrangements.
Growing bronze fennel is easy, as it requires only good garden soil, a moderate amount of water and fertilizer, good drainage, and sunshine. Its height (4-6 feet) makes it a natural for the back of the garden, or as a stunning feature in a raised bed, surrounded by lower-growing herbs and flowers. When it becomes leggy in the summer heat, just cut it off and it will grow afresh. Its vibrant nature provides rapid recovery from the banquets of black swallowtail caterpillars as well!
Beautiful in the fall garden, our winters are generally mild enough to allow it to continue to be useful throughout the year.