Acanthus

Acanthus syriacus
Acanthaceae, Acanthus Family
Acanthus
Acanthus
They were forced to live in the dry stream beds, among the rocks and in holes in the ground.They brayed among the bushes and huddled in the undergrowth [acanthus].
Job 30:6-7 NIV
Acanthus
I went past the field of a sluggard, past the vineyard of someone who has no sense; thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds [acanthus], and the stone wall was in ruins.
Proverbs 24:30-31 NIV

Cultural Information

TypePerennial
Height18 to 30 inches
Soilmoist, sandy, rocky, well-drained
Exposurefull sun to part shade
Leavespointed, deep shiny green; strong central rib; ornate, serrated edges; grow from central base, in a fern-like manner. A. syriacus not as broad-leaved as A. molis and has little spines at leaf-tips.
Flowerswhite petals peer out of deep, purple sepals to form raceme structure on towering, central spike; multiple flower spikes adorn plants March through May

Planting Tips

  • "Bear's Breech" or Acanthus molis is the common species available for home gardens
  • Acanthus adapts to most climatic conditions, dying back either in too-hot summers or freezing winters depending on temperatures and exposures
  • hot summer gardens: plant in partial shade
  • cold winter gardens: plant in full sun
  • locate at the back of the garden bed as full grown plants are fairly massive
  • average soil will do; however, provide organic matter to help with soil moisture retention
  • keep soil moist but not overwatered
  • acanthus grows and spreads into a lovely, leafy ground cover over the years

Garden to Table

  • acanthus leaves make dramatic additions to cut flower arrangements
  • pair leaves and flowers with other tall, stalky flowers - enjoy these ideas from Slow Flowers founder Debra Prinzing
  • acanthus has a short vase-life so prepare arrangements the day you are hosting your dinner or display
  • for a play on the origin of Corinthian capitals, classically designed with scrolling acanthus leaves, situate a vase of them within an antique-looking basket
  • to use leaves as placemats, cut and layer between damp paper towels, lay on shelf of refrigerator, and weight with a large box, book, etc. for 2-3 hours before dinner. Pair with playful green napkins, or a fabric adorned with the sculptural leaves

Additional Resources

See Blog Posts on Acanthus
A freeborn maiden of Corinth . . . was attacked by an illness and passed away. After her burial, her nurse, collecting a few [of her things] . . . put them in a basket, carried it to the tomb, and laid it on top thereof . . . this basket happened to be placed just above the root of an acanthus. The acanthus root, pressed down meanwhile though it was by the weight, when springtime came round put forth leaves and stalks . . . rowing up along the sides of the basket . . . Just then Callimachus . . . passed by this tomb and observed the basket with the tender young leaves growing round it. Delighted with the novel style and form, he built some columns after that pattern for the Corinthians. — Vitruvius, The Ten Books on Architecture, first century BC, translated by Moris Hicky Morgan, 1914
-from the NIV God's Word for Gardeners Bible
Acanthus
I went past the field of a sluggard, past the vineyard of someone who has no sense; thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds [acanthus], and the stone wall was in ruins.
Proverbs 24:30-31 NIV

Photo Credits

©2003 John Winder, Creative Commons Acanthus syriacus, Nahal Mearot Nature Reserve, Israel
©2010 Zachi Evenor Creative Commons Acanthus syriacus קוציץ סורי
©2017 Shelley S. Cramm acanthus leaves embellish the architecture of Adler & Sullivan 1896
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