Acanthaceae – Acanthus




Acanthaceae includes approxi – mately 256 genera of perennial herbs, shrubs, and climbers, which are widely distributed in warm tem- perate an tropical regions. Leaves are in opposite pairs, often at right angles to the pair above and below (decussate) an stems are often 4 – angled. Flowers are bisexual and bi – laterally symmetrical. The sepals and petals are fused at their bases. Upper and lower petals are some- times elongated into lips. Bracts are often more showy than the tu- bular on funnel- shapdd flowers. The fruit in a dry capsule that, in cenrtain species, opens explosively to scatter the seed. The shrubby species described here can be used to create informal nat – ural beds in the English perennial garden style or  may be lightly clipped as specimen plants or hedges. Most are suitable for con- tainers. For those that require even moisture, a thick layer of mulch greathly reduces the amount of irri – gation needed.


Acanthus includes approximately 30 species of evergreen subshrubs and perennial herbs mostly from the Mediterranean region. Stylized acanthus leaves have been used for ornamentation since the Classical Greeks designed the capitals of the Corinthian columns. Flowers have a well – developed lobed flower lip while the other petals are reduced to stubs. The leaves are deeply lobed, toothed, and often spiny. With rare exception, they are ar – ranged in basal whorls. Usually a tall inflorescence spike develops from the center of the leaf whorl or, in the case of A, montanus, at the ends of the branches.

Acanthus mollis


Mediterranean region. Evergreen perennial herb to 2 ft, zones 7 – 10. Blooms spring, summer. Regular moisture when hot, less when cool. Fertile, Well – drained soil. Bright bro- ken light to full sin in milder cli- mates. Flowers: lip greenish white, sepals small, sharply toothed, clasped between leafike, mauve and green bracts, evenly distributed in whorls of 4 along the erect 3 – to 5 – ft.spike. Leaves: broad, deeply lobed, glossy, margins softly toothed, arranged in basal whorls to 3-5 ft.wide. A clump – forming species. Commonly cultivated in mild temperate regions  and thrives in southern California. Crosses of this species with A. spinosus are distin – guished by their sharply toothed leaf margins.

Acanthus montanus


Tropical western African. Evergreen perennial herb, 2-5 ft, zones 9-11. Blooms warm months. Moderate moisture when hot, less when cool. Fertile, well – drained soil. Part sun or bright broken light. Flowers : lip pale pink with purple veins, bracts green, leaflike, spiny, in  a compact spike at the ends of upturned sprawling (decumbent) branches. Leaves: ovate to obovate, deeply lobed, tips tapering (acuminate). 8-10 in.long, margins sharply toothed, cauline (on a stem). A sprawling or clambering species of montane forest understory. This species lacks the typical basal whorl of leaves. Unusual in cultivation.


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