GBFD, February – My thoughts on Acanthus Mollis and Spinosa

First I apologise that I’m late with the post for my meme; my only excuse is pressure of work and that I’ve had a virus that has left me without any energy.

PBM garden’s post is here and Lead me up the garden path here.  Thank you for joining in.

I find this plant interesting because it behaves completely differently here in Italy than it did in my garden in the South of England (which was also free draining gravely soil in a south facing garden.  So although obviously the summer temperatures in England are much lower and there is more rain the winter conditions really aren’t so different, possible temperatures get a little lower here in Italy but also there are more sunny days.

The RHS describes it thus: Acanthus are robust herbaceous perennials with handsome, lobed foliage and tall, erect racemes of two-lipped flowers with colourful bracts

A. mollis is a vigorous plant with large, glossy dark green leaves, pinnately lobed and, in late summer, tall racemes of white flowers with dusky purple bracts

Common names: bear’s breeches, brank ursine, common bear’s breech, soft-leaved bear’s breech

Foliage: Dark Green in Spring and Summer.  Flower: Purple and White in Summer

Characteristics:  Plant type: Herbaceous Perennial

Habit: Columnar/Upright.  Resilience: Hardiness: H4 (hardy)

But that isn’t how they grow here.  With the first rains of early autumn the foliage appears, new and fresh and shiny.  They remain evergreen all winter, their beautiful architectural leaves filling the space under the Mulberry tree.  In late spring and early summer the flower spikes appear.  By the end of July the plant is in summer dormancy, the leaves shrivelled and brown and the flower spikes spreading their seed.

Acanthus mollis under the mulberry tree

Acanthus mollis under the mulberry tree, January 2013

Acanthus mollis, flowering in June 2011

Acanthus mollis, flowering in June 2011

I grow Acanthus for its glossy green leaves when little else is in flower.  I need to combine them with something that is flowering or interesting in July and August; if you have any suggestions they will be gratefully received.

To join in GBFD please post and leave a link with your comment here.  Thank you for joining in and again my apologies for being late this month.


22 thoughts on “GBFD, February – My thoughts on Acanthus Mollis and Spinosa

    • I’m feeling better today, thank you but yes this year there has been a lot of illness. I suppose it is my imagination but I think the viruses get stronger and give worse symptoms every year! I am very envious of your beautiful Hellebore foliage. Christina

  1. I have always admired Acanthus but I committed the grave error of putting it in the wrong places without realising it needs a lot of room. I am now reduced to trying to dig out the tiny pieces of root every year from which it manages to sprout. I have left one plant in the most inhospitable place I can find but it manages to thrive and we are both satisfied. It is interesting how differently plants behave in different environments.

  2. Hi Christina, sorry you have had a virus, there are some really nasty ones around at the moment. I think I must have conditions part way between your old garden and your new one, as acanthus mollis seems to be evergreen here but doesn’t die back in the summer. I wonder if you could pair acanthus with something spikily structural like an eryngium of some sort, or perhaps an umbellifer for a more airy and delicate counter to all that amazing foliage. My GBFD post is up, thanks again for hosting.

    • What a coincidence that you, Pauline and I all wrote about Acanthus. It is a plant I enjoy having in the garden, maybe I should just some kind of shade loving annual that will flower, then dissapear under the leaves of the Acanthus when they re-appear. Thanks for joining in again. Christina

    • Thanks Suzzie. Acanthus grow very easily from seed but be warned once you have them they are difficult to eliminate if you change your mind, they will grow from small pieces of root left in the ground. Christina

  3. Thank you for stopping by my bog. I planted an Acanthus this past fall. It has performed beautifully all winter long. I’m curious how it will take the TX heat. Good to know that it will go dormant in the summer. I’m sure passionflowers would do well with the heat in Italy.

    • Italy isn’t so hot during winter. Our night-time temperatures have been down to below freezing most nights for the last 3 weeks! So I can only grow the passionflowers that are relatively hardy. Christina

  4. Glad to hear you are feeling better. As for plants to take over from the Acanthus in summer, have you thought of Salvia, Tithonia, Sunflower, or warm season grasses? I think there are also some Liatris and Aster that like dry conditions. I’ll check if any of the other might be suitable, Christina

  5. What an interesting (and unknown to me) plant. Gorgeous foliage. You have such an advantage to be able to compare two sets of garden conditions, England and Italy, to see how it behaves in each place.

  6. Isn’t that interesting how you’ve grown this plant in both locations and how it behaves so differently. The leaves must be a really welcome sight over the winter. I think Liatris would look good to fill in the gap over the summer too. I found I had to keep replanting mine every few years, it maybe gets eaten too readily in my garden (too many snails) and that weakens it. I have had it growing in a very warm and sunny position and it loves it.

  7. Christina I hope you feel better…Sadly I have no foliage showing and I will have to do a better job of taking pictures of foliage during the year to show case it in winter. I have long admired Acanthus mollis…liatris might be a good addition there.

  8. Hi Christina, I have an Acanthus mollis in my woodland garden. It has been very slow to grow. The leaves appear in fall as yours do, then disappear with the arrival of summer heat. So far I have had no flowers. Not sure if it just needs to mature or if its semi-shady location doesn’t get enough sun. I like the foliage well enough, so I will keep it where it is, even without flowers.

    • In places where it is very hot and there are high light levels they grow well in shade. Mine in under the mostly shady tree I have. In the UK they preferred full sun to flower well. Christina

    • Yes, I hadn’t though of it, but that’s a very good comparison and is a plant I’ve always intended planting here but haven’t actually got yet, thanks for reminding me. C

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.