VIU Milner Gardens and Woodland

Plant Pick: Bear's Breeches

Latin name: Acanthus mollis

by Vancouver Island Master Gardeners Association

Acanthus species are native to the Mediterranean area.  A large vigorous plant with stately clumps of leaves and bold flower spikes. It will spread under moist and favourable growing conditions but tolerates drier areas. The large, deeply lobed leaves are dark green and shiny on the upper surface.  

A mature clump can bear multiple flower spikes up to 5 feet in height. The long lasting, white flowers with showy purple bracts appear in summer and can be dried.  When picking, beware of the sharp spines between the flowers.

This architectural plant is suitable for the back of a mixed border or as a focal specimen.

Ignored by deer.         

Photos courtesy of:  Angela Einarson




Herbaceous perennial, forming a large leaf clump which dies away in winter.


Long, deeply lobed leaves, up to 2 feet (60 cm) long.


In flower the plant rises to 5 feet (150cms) in height and has a basal clump of foliage to 3 feet (90cm) wide.

Hardiness Zone:

Zone 7-11. The foliage dies away in colder areas and re-sprouts in the spring.


Sun to part shade.

Flower colour:

Tall flower spikes, white flowers with showy purple bracts.

Leaf colour:

Dark green, glossy on top.

Flower time:

Early summer lasting through to Fall.

Preferred soil

and Watering:

Any soil, but thrives with more moisture.


"Mollis" means velvety or soft in Latin , an apt description for the large glossy leaves. 

Flowers good for cutting or drying. 

Historically, Acanthus leaves have been the motif on top of Greek Corinthian columns. 

Milner Gardens & Woodland has specimens of Acanthus mollis and Acanthus spinosa in the large border across the Grand Lawn.