From the Greek akanthos, a spine (Acanthaceae). Bear's breech. Handsome hardy perennials known to the Greeks and Romans, who used the leaf form of Acanthus mollis for the decoration of the Corinthian column.
Species cultivated A. caroli-alexandri, feet, white or rose flowers in July. A. longifolius, up to 3-4 feet, purple flowers in June. A. mollis, the best-known species, 3-4 feet, with white, pink or mauve flowers and great bold leaves 2 feet long; vars. latifolius with wider leaves and white flowers, nigrum, with glossy, spineless leaves and lilac-white flowers. A. spinosus, 4 feet, very prickly deeply divided leaves, a handsome plant with purple, green and white flowers in July and August.
Cultivation Excellent as specimen plants where their form and character can be appreciated, acanthus stand erect without support. Tenacious because of their stout roots, they can withstand both drought and wind. The foliage of the young plants is less pointed and not as deeply cut as that of mature plants, and root cuttings taken from young plants will produce plants of less jagged leaf shape. Grow them in well-drained loam, preferably, but not necessarily, in a sunny position. Propagate by seed sown in gentle heat in spring, or root cuttings in winter or spring, or division in autumn or spring.