Cultivation

Acanthus may be grown from seed but will not always breed true. Cuttings from the roots are the easiest way to reproduce plants and may be taken in winter or spring.

Acanthus has the common name “Bears Breeches”. A Tudor writer called Turner called it Branke Ursine” but why this common name is used is anyone’s guess. It is however a very well-known and used common name.

As recently as January 17, 2008, Indian researchers at Jadavpur University in Kolkata have discovered that the Indian medicinal plant Acanthus montanus or Harkach Kanta can effectively combat liver cancer.

Acanthus are native to southern Europe, and Turkey and there are many tropical Acanthus found in Asia and the plains of East Africa and also in South America.

As a general rule, Acanthus grow in well drained soils – they dont like to be sitting in water, especially during winter. The herbaceous species are native to dry rocky hills and make striking border plants in cool temperate zones. They thrive equally well in both sun and dense shade, although they tend to flower more prolifically in sun and are slightly more compact whilst they produce more and larger leaves in shade.

Plant Acanthus in a position where you want them to remain as once established, they are hard to eradicate! They make excellent specimen plants in tubs and pots. Mildew can be a problem with large crowded Acanthus plants but if cut down, the leaves soon re-sprout. It is caused by lack of air movement around the plant so will also apply to plants growing too close to a fence or wall.

Acanthus are drought tolerant, once they have got their roots down and make good seaside plants and are resistant to salt.
Most of the Acanthus we grow are plants which have handsome basal leaves from which emerge densely packed spikes of hooded flowers. Some have fragrant flowers and the flower spikes are useful, when dried, for winter decoration.

New Flora and Silva, 1928 Recommend

“Acanthus Spinosus, Mollis and Latifolius, a position to site them is in the Lawn as a focal point. A further letter praises Caroli-Alexander and Perringii; although the author of the letter does point out that wood lice have a taste for the leaves of the latter!”

EA Bowles (one of the 20th century’s great gardeners) once said

“Acanthus will sometimes sulk for years after planting (or replanting), but once they forgive you they ramp, while every atom of broken rootlet left in a two foot hole will sprout up into stronger plants than those removed.”

An Australian gardening presenter, Jerry Coleby-Williams, said in 2004

“The Acanthaceae family is often overlooked because the plants are sometimes considered to be old fashioned, but they are interesting because they have many different features that are attractive for gardens.”