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Acanthus mollis

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Kemper Code:  C937

Common Name: bear's breeches
Zone: 7 to 10
Plant Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Acanthaceae
Missouri Native: No
Native Range: Southern Europe, northwestern Africa
Height: 3 to 5 feet
Spread: 2 to 3 feet
Bloom Time: June - July   Bloom Data
Bloom Color: White (sometimes pink)
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Medium

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Plant Culture and Characteristics

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  Uses:       Wildlife:   Flowers:   Leaves:   Fruit:
Hedge Suitable as annual Attracts birds Has showy flowers Leaves colorful Has showy fruit
Shade tree Culinary herb Attracts Has fragrant flowers Leaves fragrant Fruit edible
Street tree Vegetable   hummingbirds Flowers not showy Good fall color   Other:
Flowering tree Water garden plant Attracts Good cut flower Evergreen Winter interest
Gr. cover (<1') Will naturalize   butterflies Good dried flower     Thorns or spines

General Culture:

Winter hardy to USDA Zones 7-10 where it is easily grown in average, fertile, medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. Plants tolerate a wide range of soils except poorly-drained ones. Plants may not flower well in too much shade. Late spring frosts can impair or eliminate flowering for the year. Remove flowering stalks after bloom. In cold winter areas, plant foliage should be left in place over winter but removed in early spring as new foliage appears. Plants can spread aggressively by creeping rootstocks, particularly in loose soils. Unwanted spread can be addressed by root barriers. Plants generally spread less in the northern parts of their growing range. Plants are best propagated from root cuttings taken in early spring, but may be grown from seed. Plants can be slow to establish in the garden (particularly if started from seed), but become somewhat difficult to eradicate once established since small sections of root left behind can sprout new plants. This plant is not reliably winter hardy to the St. Louis area. If attempted in St. Louis, it should be sited in a protected location and mulched.

Noteworthy Characteristics:

This species of bearís breeches is a clump-forming perennial that is grown as much for its attractive foliage as for its architecturally bold flower spikes. It is native to the Mediterranean region. Creamy white (sometimes pink) snapdragon-like flowers, each hooded and subtended by spiny reddish-purple bracts, bloom in late spring to midsummer in vertical rows on substantial flower spikes that rise well above the foliage mound to 3-5í tall. Deeply lobed, soft-spiny, glossy dark green leaves (to 2í long) form a mound of basal foliage. Acanthus leaves have a classical appearance and were the source of the Corinthian leaf motif developed and used as a decoration in ancient Greek and Roman art and architecture. It is believed that the leaves of A. mollis or A. spinosis were the model for the sculptured leaves that adorn the capitals of the Corinthian columns that became popular in the 4th century B.C. Genus name comes from the Greek word for spine (akantha) in reference to the toothed edges on leaves in some species. There appears to be no scholarly agreement among authorities on the origin and meaning of the term bearís breeches.

Problems: Click for detailed list of pests and problems.

No serious insect or disease problems. Snails and slugs are occasional visitors that can do substantial damage if left unchecked. Plants can spread aggressively in optimum conditions.


Bold, stately plants that may be grown as specimens but are perhaps best in small groupings. Borders or formal gardens. For the St. Louis area, A. spinosus is a similar plant with better winter hardiness.

© Missouri Botanical Garden, 2001-2011

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