Bear’s Breeches plant aka Acanthus mollis (a-kan’thus mil-lis), is a herbaceous, perennial plant, that does not have a persistent woody stem above the ground.
The name of the plant is derived from the Greek word, ákanthos, which simply means “thorn”.
The name is befitting, referring to the thorn-bearing sepals of the plant.
The word “mollis” originates from Latin and means “soft/smooth”, referring to the texture of the leaves.
Native to the Mediterranean region, these plants from the family Acanthaceae enjoy hot and dry summers and mild and rainy winters.
Known as one of the oldest cultivated plants, Acanthus bears breech is commonly found in regions of southern Europe ranging from Portugal and Africa to Croatia.
While it is a popular species, these plants are considered to be invasive in some regions. In Australia, it is known as the oyster plant.
Keep in mind that while bear breeches are a flowering plant, its foliage, with shiny, dark-green leaves, is quite imposing and attractive.
The foliage is deeply lobed and holds historic value since the leaves of the plant are believed to have inspired the ancient Greek sculptor to model the crown of Corinthian column.
The ancient Greek poets have also described the infamous Helen of Troy as wearing a dress made of acanthus leaves.
Bear’s Breeches (Acanthus Mollis) Care
Size & Growth
Including inflorescence, Bear’s Breech plant can reach the height of 48” inches.
The green leaves are soft to touch and usually grow up to 16” inches in length and 8” inches wide.
Keep in mind that these plants usually grow quickly, from seeds as well as from portions of roots.
Moreover, with proper care and under the right conditions, these plants can live on for years!
Flowering and Fragrance
As a flowering plant, A. mollis has an inflorescence growing above the clumps of leaves.
It has cylindrical flower spikes usually around 12” – 16” inches in length and can produce up to 120 flowers.
The white flowers are usually clasped by green or purple bracts.
The bloom time for the bear’s breech flower begins in late spring or early summer (May-August).
Keep in mind that these plants are temperamental about blooming as buds can easily get damaged due to late spring frost.
Light & Temperature
These plants enjoy the sunlight in moderation.
In their natural habitat, these plants receive loads of natural light.
To ensure these garden plants stay healthy and bloom well, it is important to make sure they receive a few hours of sun.
They usually do well in full sun to partial shade.
While these plants require sunlight, they need more protection in hotter climates.
It is advisable to protect these plants from the hot afternoon sun.
Keep in mind that, sometimes, Acanthus can go dormant in the late summer.
However, once the temperature drops a bit, these plants will quickly bounce back to life
Watering and Feeding Bears Breeches
Once established, Acanthus breech plants are one of the hardy plants and highly resistant to drought.
However, it is advisable to stick to regular watering. Water plants once or twice a week.
An inch of water a week should do the trick. It will also make sure that you don’t overwater and drown the roots.
Acanthus plants are not heavy feeders. Apply fertilizer during the flowering season (spring or mid-summer).
Use a balanced fertilizer and apply it only if the plant looks like it needs some.
Soil & Transplanting
Bear breeches enjoy rich soil. The more compost or organic material added the happier these plants will be.
This is especially important for young plants.
Once established the plant can thrive in poor soil as well.
However, it is absolutely essential to make sure that the soil is well-drained.
Otherwise, the roots may rot, especially during the cold winter months of the year.
The optimal pH level of the soil ranges from 6.5 to 7.5.
Grooming and Maintenance
Under the right conditions, these plants are sturdy and self-sufficient and do not require much pampering.
However, when grown in hot climates, it is advisable to prune the plants after the flowering season to encourage fresh leaves.
The best approach is to wait till spring to prune or cut back declining leaves.
How To Propagate Bear Breeches Acanthus
The Acanthus plant can be propagated through seeds, cutting, and division.
Keep in mind that under the right conditions, this plant may propagate vigorously on its own.
When growing from seeds, spring is the best time to sow the seeds. However, Acanthus mollis grown from seeds may take years to bloom.
Division is one of the more preferred methods.
Since these plants have long tap roots, the best way to divide them is to thrust a shovel in the plant’s roots during fall.
By spring, the roots will grow a number of baby plants that can be transplanted without causing damage to the parent plant.
On the other hand, if you want to propagate plants through cuttings, it is advisable to root cuttings in spring or fall.
Bears Breeches Acanthus Pest or Disease Problems
While Acanthus mollis is resistant to most insect attacks, powdery mildew and other fungal diseases can present serious problems for these plants.
The easiest way to deal with this problem is to provide good air circulation and use a good-quality fungicide.
Suggested Uses For Acanthus Bear Breech Plants
Acanthus Mollis was traditionally used as a treatment for dislocated joints and burns.
Some people also used it to treat the irritated digestive and urinary tract.
However, today, it is generally known as a beautiful ornamental plant and popular in coastal locations.
Used singly it makes a good garden accent, it is also useful as a ground cover when planted to cover large areas with moist soil. The flower stalks make fine dried arrangements.