Plant of the Month July 2017

acanthus flowering


Acanthus is a genus of about 30 species in the family Acanthaceae native to South Europe and Asia. Acanthus is the Greek name for a thorn.

The two plants most widely grown in Britain are A. spinosus with spiny leaves and A. mollis with softer cabbage type leaves, giving rise to its common name ‘Bears Breeches’. They are hardy deciduous plants with a long tap root that thrive in the sun and are drought tolerant. In mid summer the flowers emerge growing on tall stems above the leaves. The two lipped white flowers are arranged in whorls about each stem and number about thirty. Each flower is topped with a dusky purple hood or bract. In the autumn these conceal bean sized shiny brown seeds. In hot countries these often dehisce.

In the Clay Lane bed at Reveley there is an established Acanthus mollis, a statuesque and architectural plant. It escaped the move to the stock bed during the remake. This was just as well, for the root would most likely have been too damaged for the such a large plant to survive.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti - Helen of Troy

 Acanthus were introduced to this country by the Romans who used the plants ornamentally and boiled their roots for poultices.

The leaves were used by the Greeks to garland the Corinthian columns. They became a much used decorative motif in furniture, jewellery and classical architecture. Virgil describes Helen of Troy wearing a dress embroidered with acanthus leaves. ‘Pallam rigentem signis auroque, et velamen circumtextum croceo acantho ornatus Argivae Helenae’.



Acanthus foliage


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