Acanthus hungaricus – Hungarian Bear’s Breeches

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Robert Pavlis

The first time I saw Acanthus hungaricus, the Hungarian Bear’s Breeches, 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 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 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.

Compost Science for Gardeners by Robert Pavlis

Acanthus hungaricus

(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

Cultivation of Acanthus hungaricus :

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, division or seed

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Robert Pavlis

I have been gardening my whole life and have a science background. 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!

9 thoughts on “Acanthus hungaricus – Hungarian Bear’s Breeches”

    • I don’t see such a list on Ontario Landscape, but it is not an official list. I also checked some other invasive plant lists, such as Ontario’s list and did not find it listed.

      Reply
  1. Just an FYI – my Acanthus sp., moved north 12 years ago has happily growing in zone 4 (north of Huntsville, Ontario) and has even self-sown. I love this plant too!

    Reply
  2. I’ve had this plant for a number of years and have loved it. It’s roots really spread and I am getting plants all over.This past summer I tried to dig it’s long roots out and replant it at our cottage where we have lots of room for it to sprawl. It has survived at the cottage and I’m hoping it will bloom next season. Unfortunately it’s hard to get all the roots dug out and I will have more work trying to dig out more of the spreaders in my garden at home.

    Reply
  3. The first time I saw Acanthus hungaricus was in your gardens and they were covered with blooms. You gave me a seedling (thank you very much) and it bloomed the first year. One of my all-time favourite flowers.

    Reply

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