Also called sea dock, bear’s foot, and oyster plant, this tender herbaceous perennial is a member of the mostly tropical plant family, Acanthaceae, that also includes polka dot plant, shrimp plant, and Thunbergia. It is native to the Mediterranean area from Portugal to Greece, and its leaves were used by the Ancient Greeks as a model for their decorative Corinthian capitals. A wall painting in the House of Adonis shows an acanthus plant (on the left) along with an egret teasing a snake and a hart’s tongue fern on the right. The ancient Roman naturalist, Pliny the Elder (died 79 AD), mentions this plant in his work, Natural History, and notes that it is used in the treatment of several ailments including burns, sprains, ruptures, spasms, and hot gout. Photo Credit Gmihail Wikimedia Commons
Plants grow 30-48″ tall from a rhizome and form clusters of deeply lobed and cut, shiny dark green leaves that are 24″ long by 12″ wide and have a long petiole. From late spring through summer tall flower shoots appear covered with up to 120 pinkish-white tubular florets that are 2″ long, complemented by mauve hoods and surrounded by three green or purplish bracts. The genus name, Acanthus is from the Greek word akanthos meaning spine and refers to the fact that some members of this genus have spines on their leaves. This species, A. mollis, however, lacks spines as indicated by the specific epithet, mollis, Latin for smooth).