Types of fennel: old and new varieties for the garden


I studied horticultural sciences at university and in my free time you can find me in my own patch of land, growing anything with roots. I am particularly passionate about self-sufficiency and seasonal food.

Favourite fruit: quince, cornelian cherry and blueberries
Favourite vegetables: peas, tomatoes and garlic

Fennel can be grown as bulb fennel, wild fennel and sweet fennel used for flowers and seeds. We will show you the various varieties and give you an overview of the best fennel cultivars.

Fennel used for cooking
There are countless ways of using fennel [Photo: 5 second Studio /Shutterstock.com]

Garden fennel (Foeniculum vulgare ssp. vulgare) comes in three varieties: Wild fennel, also known as common fennel (Foenicum vulgare var. vulgare); sweet fennel, also known as Roman fennel or spicy fennel (Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce), and bulb fennel (Foeniculum vulgare var. azoricum), also known as vegetable fennel, which is usually used whole for cooking. Wild fennel and sweet fennel are used as spices, in desserts, teas and as medicine, for example for treating digestive disorders. Read on to learn all about the best fennel varieties and their properties.

Comparison of bulb fennel, sweet fennel and wild fennel

Bulb fennelSweet fennelWild fennel
Foeniculum vulgare var. azoricum Foeniculum vulgare var. dulceFoeniculum vulgare var. vulgare
Use of the bulbUse of the seedsUse of the whole plant
Eaten as a cooked or raw vegetableSpice, tea, remedySpice, tea, remedy

Wild Fennel with yellow flowers
Wild fennel has a stronger aroma than cultivated varieties [Photo: Pushkarev/Shutterstock.com]

Fennel varieties: Wild fennel

The perennial wild fennel is not only closely related to anise (Pimpinella anisum), caraway (Carum carvi) and dill (Anethum graveolens) but is also the original form of today’s garden fennel varieties. It is native to the Mediterranean and the Near East and has been valued as a spice and remedy for thousands of years. Back then, it was mainly used to flavour bread and wine and to treat digestive disorders. Wild fennel is also known as bitter fennel and only forms a very small bulb. The plants, which grow up to 150 cm in height, are perennial and sprout again every spring. Nowadays, wild fennel is grown for its seeds, which are more aromatic than cultivated fennel and have a strong taste, similar to liquorice. It is called bitter fennel due to the camphor-like and bitter-tasting fenchone contained in the seeds, which has an antibacterial and invigorating effect. The dried, yellow, sweet-spicy fennel flowers called fennel pollen can also be used for seasoning.

Bowl filled with fennel seeds
The seeds and flowers of wild fennel, so-called fennell pollen, are edible [Photo: Charlotte Lake /Shutterstock.com]

Sweet fennel

Sweet fennel is a cultivated breed and is characterised by its production of numerous large and aromatically sweet seeds. Sweet fennel does not form tubers, as the plant goes straight into flowering. Due to the taste of the seeds and leaves, sweet fennel is also called spicy fennel. It is used in teas, as a seasoning for meat, fish and salads and as a remedy, for example for treating stomach pain. Today, it is mainly grown in France because the seeds need long, warm summers to ripen. The cultivation of sweet fennel is great for hobby gardeners as the plant is hardy and easy to care for. As it can handle frost, it can easily survive our winters. The inflorescences also give off an intense smell and attract numerous insects for pollination. Here are the best types of sweet fennel for you to grow in your garden:

  • ‘Dulce’: sweet fennel with sturdy stems and filigree pinnate green foliage. These biennial plants can grow up to 200 cm and produce large amounts of aromatic fennel seeds in addition to sweet tasting leaves.
  • ‘Finocchio’: biennial, green sweet fennel with aromatic, sweet leaves and seeds. This variety likes to propagate itself by sowing its seeds in the bed.
  • ‘Magnafena’: vigorous fennel variety with shiny, turquoise-green foliage and very large seeds. These plants grow up to 80 cm and remain quite small and compact.
Yellow blooms of sweet fennel
Sweet fennel will begin to flower in its first year if sown early enough [Photo: fulgavlad /Shutterstock.com]
  • ‘Purpureum’: bronze fennel with bronze to copper-brown leaves. This biennial perennial can grow up to 200 cm and spreads by self-seeding if its seeds are not harvested.
  • ‘Rubrum’: bronze fennel with a growth height of 150 – 200 cm and green leaves with a delicate bronze overtone. This variety forms large, fragrant flower umbels that often only produce a few seeds.
  • ‘Smokey’: brown fennel with particularly sweet-tasting leaves. It can grow up to 150 cm and is a hardy perennial.
  • ‘Stonecrop’: sweet fennel that produces seeds that can be harvested in the first year, if sown in early spring. The plants, which grow up to 200 cm, are a paradise for bees for many weeks.
Pretty leaves of bronze fennel
The bronze fennel variety ‘Purpureum’ forms pretty bronze to copper-brown leaves [Photo: Peter Turner Photography/Shutterstock.com]

Bulb fennel varieties

Bulb fennel is our favourite variety, characterised by strong, thick, white-green shoot tubers. Historically speaking, the bulb fennel is the youngest type and was created by crossing different wild fennel varieties. Today, it is grown in large parts of the world and can be enjoyed raw in salads, but can also be boiled, steamed or baked.

The numerous fennel varieties mainly differ in their harvest time and in the categories “shoot-resistant” or “non shoot-resistant”. In our climate, we recommend using only shoot-resistant varieties because they do not tend to form a flower instead of a tuber in their first year. Many shoot-resistant varieties of bulb fennel are now available for cultivation:

Dense tubers of fennel 'Finale'
The fennel variety ‘Finale’ forms thick tubers [BU: [Photo: Maria Bobrova /Shutterstock.com]
  • ‘Di Firenze’: this old Italian variety forms aromatic, large shoot tubers, but unfortunately is less shoot-resistant than today’s varieties. Therefore, it can only be grown in autumn.
  • ‘Finale’: this shoot-resistant variety is great for early cultivation. The round, firm and dense tubers have a good size, a high yield and an aromatic taste.
  • ‘Fino’: this extremely shoot-resistant variety is characterised by its lush, bright white tubers. It can be grown early in the year and has a great taste.
  • ‘Montebianco’: it is best to harvest this early to medium ripe, broad round tuber fennel variety in autumn. The time between sowing and harvest is about 90 – 110 days.
Fennel 'Fino' grown in garden
The fennel variety ‘Fino’ is shoot-resistant and can be grown early in the year [Photo: nnattalli /Shutterstock.com]
  • ‘Orazio F1’: hybrid variety with uniformly large, thick, rounded tubers. They hardly ever become woody and can be harvested as mini fennels or fully-grown vegetable fennels.
  • ‘Perfection’: this fennel variety produces beautifully shaped, white, flat-round tubers. It is recommended for early cultivation and autumn harvest.
  • Preludio F1′: hybrid variety from Italy with medium-sized, round, white tubers. This shoot-resistant variety is suitable for planting from May to August.
Stem tubers of 'Romanesco' fennel
The stem tubers of the ‘Romaneso’ fennel variety can reach a weight of 400 g [Photo: Gurcharan Singh /Shutterstock.com]
  • ‘Romanesco’: early maturing fennel variety from the area around Rome with large, thick shoot tubers, which can weigh up to 400 g. These plants reach a growth height of about 60 cm.
  • ‘Rondo F1’: this shoot-resistant hybrid variety for summer and autumn harvest is characterised by a high yield and an intense flavour of the tubers.
  • ‘Selma’: this shoot-resistant variety is fast growing with large tubers. It also stands out for its high yield throughout the summer and its fine flavour.

After choosing the right fennel variety, it is time for sowing and planting. Read more about growing fennel in your garden here.

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