Plant much appreciated for its high ornamental value, it is cultivated for its large decorative leaves and for the wonderful spike inflorescence. Acanthus is found in many gardens both as an isolated plant and in groups, together with other plants with supple foliage, or flowering plants. It stands out for its majestic beauty, for its vigor and for the large spike inflorescence that stands out on other plants, for example in borders, on lawns or in rock gardens. It is also possible to grow it under very large plants, in places where few other plants would grow, for example under a pine, an oak, or near a laurel or rosemary plant.
Acanthus is a plant native to the Mediterranean regions, which grows up to altitudes of 300 m, even spontaneously. It prefers places where the soil always retains a certain humidity (near waterways or at the edge of the woods).
General characteristics of the acanthus
The acanthus is an extremely vigorous plant with leaves of a beautiful glossy green, serrated, with a long stem, which can reach up to a meter in length and almost as wide.
The leaves they form a thick bush on which the beautiful spike inflorescences stand out which exceed the leaves by more than one meter: the plant can therefore reach up to 2 meters in height. Flowering occurs in the summer, and the very numerous flowers have colors ranging from white to pink, to mauve, with purple edges.
The long inflorescences they are used both fresh and dried for flower bouquets or floral decorations. If you intend to cut the inflorescences, be careful not to damage the stems: equip yourself with well-sharpened scissors, avoiding tearing or fraying the plant tissues. If you prefer to use dried flowers, you can also let them dry on the plant.
It belongs to the family of acanthacee, which includes about thirty different species; among the most common are the soft-leaved acanthus and thorny acanthus.
|Acanto in short|
|Type of plant||From flowers, decorative, and cut flowers|
|Origin||Basin of the Mediterranean and Asia Minor|
|Foliage||Persistent in the southern regions, semi-persistent in the others|
|Use||Plant isolated or in groups|
|Height to maturity||From 0.30 m to 2 m with inflorescences|
|Diseases and parasites||Powdery mildew, snails and slugs|
|Temperature||It does not tolerate prolonged periods of cold or frosts|
Acanthus mollisAcanthus is a perennial herbaceous plant loved since ancient times, Pliny the Elder in his botanical treatises, in 50 AD, suggested the elegant and superb acanthus plants to decorate the valiant gods ...
Variety of Acanthus
Soft-leaved acanthus (acanthus mollis)
Plant that reaches 2 m in height, has large, bright green lobed leaves that can even reach 1 m in length. The leaves are persistent in regions with a mild climate, instead they fall in areas with a colder climate. It bears large clusters of white flowers with purple streaks that bloom between June and August. It prefers rich, well-drained soil.
Thorny acanthus (acanthus spinosus)
The plant has a height of between 0, 60 m and 1.5 m. With large leaves incised up to the midrib, and with a thorny tip. Widely used together with other plants. The spike inflorescences are large, and the white, mauve and pink flowers bloom between May and August. It also bears very low temperatures, below freezing. It grows in all types of soil, but it is advisable to plant it in rich, drained soil.
How to grow acanthus
Cultivation is very easy, as it is an undemanding plant that resists even in particularly sunny and dry places. It prefers drained soils where it forms large bushes over the years as it is a slow growing plant.
To ensure that the leaves remain beautiful longer, it is advisable to water the plant more frequently in the summer period, while in the winter the frequency and quantity of water must be reduced. In winter, the acanthus can withstand even the cold, as long as it doesn't last too long. In regions with a colder climate, it will lose its leaves, which will reappear in spring. In these regions, it is recommended to protect the roots from frosts, covering them with a mulch of dry leaves or straw.
|The cultivation of acanthus|
|Exposure||Sun or partial shade in the southern regions|
|Ground||Drained, rich in humus|
|Cleaning / pruning||Lively|
|Fertilization||Spring-summer period once a month|
|Multiplication||Sowing, cutting, division of the tufts|
How and when to plant the acanthus
It is advisable to plant the acanthus in spring, between April and May, when there is no longer the risk of frost. Be careful not to damage the roots as the acanthus reacts poorly to damage. Prepare the soil by putting some compost and sand, especially if the soil is quite heavy. Carefully take the seedlings from the pots, being careful not to damage them in any way since the acanthus is a plant that does not tolerate transplanting or repotting.
Dig a hole slightly larger than the seedling in the ground and place the seedling on it. Water it until the first signs of engraftment are evident. Place the seedlings at a distance of at least 80 cm-1 m from each other so that there is enough space between one and the other; in fact the strong roots of the plant need a lot of space to grow. While, later, it will be sufficient to water the plant only in particularly dry periods.
|The acanthus calendar|
|Flowering||June July August|
How to grow acanthus
Cultivation is very easy, as it is an undemanding plant that resists even in particularly sunny and dry places. In these regions, it is recommended to protect the roots from frosts, covering them with a mulch of dry leaves or straw.
Acanthus prefers sun exposure, but in regions with hot and dry climates it is preferable to place it in partial shade, for example near a large tree. Be careful not to plant it in a too ventilated place.
Acanthus is a plant that tolerates periods of heat or drought, but is very sensitive to cold, and especially to frosts. Therefore, if it is grown in pot, in winter it is advisable to move it to a place protected from wind and frost. If, on the other hand, it is kept in the garden, the roots must be protected with mulch. In colder areas, the acanthus plant sheds its leaves in winter.
Soil and Acanthus fertilization
The acanthus adapts to any type of soil as long as it is well drained; but it prefers slightly calcareous soils, which remain cool in summer. If the soil is heavy, it is advisable to add sand to avoid stagnation of water. In addition, the soil can be enriched with organic substances, for example manure or compost.
If the soil is poor in organic matter, it is advisable to add compost or manure in the spring. Furthermore, in the period of vegetative restart (spring and summer), once a month dilute some liquid fertilizer in the watering water.
The acanthus plant does not require pruning. It is enough to eliminate the leaves when they turn yellow and the inflorescences after flowering. In the winter period, it is recommended to leave the withered leaves on the ground so that they protect the roots from the cold.
Propagate the acanthus
Acanthus propagation can be done by sowing, cutting or dividing the clumps.
Sowing usually takes place spontaneously, when the seeds fall on the ground from the spike inflorescences, giving life to new shoots. If it does not occur spontaneously, you can spread the seeds in the open ground in April, if you live in a warm region, otherwise wait for the month of May. To see the first flowers, you will have to wait 3 years.
In spring, take cuttings about 10 cm long. Cut the branch obliquely with a sharp tool to prevent it from getting damaged. Leave the leaves higher up and plant them in a small pot in a soil consisting of peat and sand. Insert the cuttings and press the soil around the cuttings.
By division of the tufts
The multiplication through the division of the tufts is carried out in autumn or winter, but it is not a very recommended procedure, since the acanthus is a very sensitive plant and could be damaged.
Parasites and diseases
Acanthus is a fairly disease-resistant plant. It is possible, however, that due to excessive humidity the leaves are damaged by powdery mildew, a fungus that causes the appearance of a whitish film on the leaves. If you feel the presence of powdery mildew, remove the leaves and treat the plant with sulfur or other fungicides.
Another possible problem is slugs and snails that can ruin the leaves. Eliminate the damaged parts of the plant and remove the animals.
If you intend to recover the seeds from the acanthus flowers, do so in the fall, before the capsules containing the seeds hatch. To preserve the seeds, leave only one inflorescence so that the plant does not consume too much energy for the ripening of the seeds of the different inflorescences.
If you intend to use the inflorescences in dried flower bouquets, let them dry and harvest them at the end of the day, when the plant is dry. Cut the inflorescences to a different length so that in the bouquet they do not get damaged. To finish drying, hang them, but upside down, in a dark, dry and airy room. Cover them with a sheet of newspaper so that they do not collect dust during the drying phase.
Acanthus leaves are a very widespread ornamental motif that is present as a decorative element in friezes, paintings, pictorial decorations and in various furniture. But the image to which the acanthus leaf is linked and the best known is that of the Corinthian capitals, in which the beautiful leaves appear with jagged edges and falling down to the outside.