Grow bear’s breech (Acanthus mollis) for bold, sculptural blooms

Your Guide to Bear’s Breech
Creative Commons photo by Leonora Enking is licensed under CC BY 2.0
A good choice for a garden accent, a thriving clump of perennial bear’s breeches (Acanthus mollis) has a bold, sculptural look—and when bloom time comes, it provides a strong vertical effect as well. Borne on arching stems, the dark green 2-foot-long leaves are attractively lobed; in some species, the leaf margins are spiny. Rigid Acanthus flower spikes rise to a height of 3 to 4 feet, set with tubular blossoms surrounded by spiny bracts (modified leaves).

How to Plant

In mild-winter regions, tuck transplants into the garden from fall through late winter. In cold-winter regions, wait until spring. Propagate Acanthus plants by dividing the clumps. In mild-winter regions, do the job at some time from fall through late winter, in cold-winter regions, wait until spring. Note that any roots left in the soil will sprout, forming new clumps.

Growing Conditions

Where hardy, Acanthus mollis is almost too easy to grow. The roots spread rapidly underground, especially in loose, moist, well-enriched soil.  Where summers are hot, locate bear’s breeches in partial shade; hot sun causes the leaves to wilt. In dry-summer regions, Acanthus plants go dormant if not regularly watered.

Pruning Tips & Plant Care

To save yourself the task of constantly fighting back plants, either allow them plenty of space or confine the roots with an 8-inch deep barrier.

Popular Varieties

The most commonly grown species of bear’s breech, Acanthus mollis, has shiny deep green leaves that are slightly lobed. White Acanthus flowers with purple-flushed bracts bloom from late spring to early summer. ‘Latifolius’ has larger leaves that the species, flowers less freely, and reputedly tolerates more cold. Acanthus spinosus, another species that blooms from late spring to early summer, has finely cut, spiny-margined leaves and white blossoms with purple bracts. Acanthus balacanicus has deeply lobed leaves with wide gaps between the lobes; it blooms profusely in summer, bearing white or pale pink blossoms with purple bracts.

Flower Colors

Find white pale pink flowers with showy purple bracts.