The Acanthus

We hold the National Collection of Acanthus at Hillview Hardy Plants and would like to share our enthusiasm for these plants with you.

We started seriously collecting Acanthus soon after we moved to Worfield in 1986. Before this, our main interest was in Alpine plants but we were moving towards growing more herbaceous ones since that seemed to be the trend with the shows and plant sales we attended.

When we had a geological survey of the nursery, this is what we found: “The nursery and surrounding area are entirely underlain by a sequence of red, cross-bedded sandstones with some siltstones, termed the Upper Mottled Sandstone. These strata are situated towards the top of the Sherwood Sandstone Group with several hundreds of metres thickness of similar strata beneath the nursery.” This means that the soil is DRY and perfect for Acanthus, thus the collecting began! We began to research the subject and found many references to Acanthus:

When looked up in a dictionary, Acanthus has a number of meanings:

  • Acanthus is a community on Cedar Lake, in north- eastern Ontario.
  • Acanthus describes ornamentation in the capitals of the Corinthian and Composite orders which depicts or resembles foliage of the Acanthus plant. Acanthus motifs appear extensively in Medieval, Renaissance artwork, particularly in sculpture and woodcarving and friezes. William Morris fabrics and prints often feature Acanthus leaves.
  • Acanthus is the name of an ancient Greek City.
  • Acantha was a nymph in Greek Mythology, associated with the Acanthus plant. He had a sister named Acanthis.
  • Acanthus is both a common name and a genus of flowering plant in the Family Acanthaceae. Acanthus, genus name, from Greek akanthos, thorn plant, from akantha, thorn.

It is the last meaning that describes our national collection.

It is amazing how many references there are to Acanthus plants, both in regard to architecture and as plants but one the most interesting for us was the extract below, re the first paper money in the USA.

It is amazing how many references there are to Acanthus plants, both in regard to architecture and as plants but one the most interesting for us was the extract below, re the first paper money in the USA.

The second Continental Congress assembled at Philadelphia on the 10th of May, 1775. There, it was decided to print paper money.

On the 1-dollar bill is a picture of the acanthus plant, sprouting up around all sides of a basket that rests upon it and is pressed down with a weight. This device illustrates the ancient legend of the origin of the Corinthian capital in architecture. The motto DEPRESSA RESURGIT translated “Though pressed down it rises again,” gave words of encouragement to the struggling colonists, assuring them that, notwithstanding present oppressions, they should not be destroyed — that their industry, forced into new courses, would increase the prosperity of the country; and that with liberty America would yet appear in the strength and beauty of a Corinthian column.

This gives some idea of how tough Acanthus are and how planting them in the garden is not for the faint-hearted! One of the most frequent questions we are asked is “How do you get rid of Acanthus?”