Garden Myths - Learn the truth about gardening

Favorite Plant – Acanthus hungaricus

The first time I saw Acanthus hungaricus in flower I was mesmerized. This is such a spectacular architectural plant that it should be in every garden.

Acanthus hungaricus by Robert Pavlis

Acanthus hungaricus; photo by Robert Pavlis

Acanthus hungaricus is an erect clump forming perennial with pale pink to white flowers enclosed in a spiny reddish-purple bract. The flowers open slowly from the bottom to the top. As the flowers fade, the bracts remain on the plants and slowly turn brown providing a long floral display. The leaves are slightly glossy, deeply lobed and 2 feet long. Even out of flower this is a great looking plant.

Acanthus hungaricus by Robert Pavlis

Acanthus hungaricus; photo by Robert Pavlis

My first plant was a fairly small seedling and after 2 years in a sunny dry spot it had still not flowered. I bought 2 more and planted them in part shade with more moisture, one quite wet. They did not flower either. Suddenly, they all flowered. A. hungaricus takes a few years to settle in and get large enough to flower. It does not seem to be fussy about it’s growing conditions. After 5 years, the first seedling had 20 flower spikes.

Acanthus is a genus of about 30 species, native to warm temperate regions. The common name is bear’s breeches. A. hungaricus is also called Hungarian bear’s breeches. There are three common species grown; A. spinosus, A. mollis and A. hungaricus (aka balcanicus). All three are very similar and frequently misnamed. The three species have also been crossed forming plants with intermediate characteristics. A mollis has shinier leaves which are less deeply lobed. The flowers tend to be a creamy white or pink. A. spinosus  and A. hungaricus have very similar leaves; both are very deeply lobed.  A. spinosus  has rigid spines on the edge of the leaves and it has whiter flowers. A. hungaricus has no spines on the leaves. If you are growing the plant in zone 5 or colder, it is not A. mollis which is reported to be hardy only to zone 7.

General information:

Name Pronunciation: a-KANTH-us hun-GAR-ee-kus

Life Cycle: perennial

Height: plant is 60 cm (2 ft) and flowers add another 60 cm

Bloom Time: mid summer

Natural Range: Balkans, Romania, Greece

Habitat: dry, open rocky slopes, usually on limestone; field margins, fallow and waste ground.

Synonyms: A. balcanus, A. longifolius



Light: full sun or part shade

Soil: normal, well draining soil, tolerates a wide range, pH 5.8 – 7.5

Water: drought tolerant once established, but prefers regular watering

USDA Hardiness Zone:  5 – 10

Propagation: root cuttings or seed

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Robert Pavlis
Editor of
I live in southern Ontario, Canada, zone 5 and have been gardening a long time. Besides writing and speaking about gardening, I own and operate a 6 acre private garden called Aspen Grove Gardens which now has over 3,000 perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees. Yes--I am a plantaholic!

I hope you find Garden Myths an educational site that helps you understand your garden better.

6 Responses to 'Favorite Plant – Acanthus hungaricus'

  1. Dorothy Ogier says:

    this is a truly spectacular plant (hungaricus), it does however need a large space as after an initial planting and 4 years later it overtook my small border. I decided to relocate it, but it took me several years to get all the roots out and 10 years later, they are still popping up, so its’ a work in progress still. It is a bit of a bully in a small border.

  2. Irene Lindberg says:

    Thank you fpr the information above! I got very fond of this plant as I saw it in NZ. Some seeds grew and got established i the southern part of Sweden. Now I only hope they will survive the winter here and I will cover them during the coldest months. Best regards 🙂

  3. LEA, Ho Zoo says:

    Thanks for interesting info, great. I noted Acanthus flowering (about end of season, it seems) in Rome, Italy last week on my family vacation for a week. Seems native wild there, not sure spieces name, though. H. LEA, Seoul, South Korea

  4. J. Wingate says:

    Thank you for a great deal of useful information,I am off to the garden shed to investigate the capsules. So far not cold enough to stratify but shall try planting some in pots as you advise and leave them covered with metal mesh screening against a N facing wall. Time lapse due to not being able to get back to the acanthus page until now. JW

  5. J. Wingate says:

    I have just harvested seeds from what I think is Acanthus Hungaricus; they are chestnut brown and shiny. When and how can I germinate these seeds? I am in an area north of Toronto Z 5 on clay soil but the plant has done well and flowered for the first time this year. I first saw the beautiful mature plants at Larkwhistle Patrick Lima’s garden.
    I am interested to know where Aspen Grove Gardens is located, this is my first visit to your site and it looks very interesting to me.

    • Are the large seeds you collected really seeds, or seed capsules? I went out to look at my plants, but the large brown things seem to be empty.

      If you germinate now, you can put them outside in pots for the winter and let nature do her thing. Or plant up in spring. A good place to get germination information is the Ontario Rock Garden Society Website. It has the best germination of any site on the net. Here are the instructions for Acanthus hungaricus:

      Sow @ 20°C for 6 weeks, then place @ 4°C for 6 weeks, then slowly raise temperature to 10°C for 6 weeks. If there is no germination, repeat the cycle. This mimics fall sowing outdoors for spring germination.
      Requires soaking. Place in warm water until seeds swell, usually 24-48 hours. Discard floaters and the water used for soaking.

      Aspen Grove is in Guelph.