Appearance''Acanthus mollis'' reaches on average 30–80 centimetres of height, with a maximum of 180 centimetres , inflorescence included. It has basal clusters of deeply lobed and cut, shiny dark green leaves, soft to the touch, up to 40 centimetres long and 25 centimetres broad, with a long petiole. The inflorescence is a cylindrical spike 30–40 centimetres long and can produce up to 120 flowers. The flowers are tubular, whitish, and lilac or rose in colour. Each flower is up to 5 centimetres long and it is surrounded by three green or purplish bracts. The central bract is spiny and larger than the other two. The calyx has two lips: the upper is purple on top, rather long and forms a kind of "helmet" on top of the corolla. The corolla is reduced to a white lower lip, trilobed, with purple-pink venation. The four stamens are fused to the corolla and look like tiny brushes. This species flowers in late spring or early summer, from May through August.
NamingThe name of the genus derives from the Greek term ἄκανθα meaning "thorn", referring to the thorn-bearing sepals, while the Latin name of the species, "mollis" meaning "smooth", refers to the texture of the leaves.
DistributionThis plant is native to the Mediterranean region from Portugal and northwest Africa east to Croatia and it is one of the earliest cultivated species.
HabitatThis garden plant is also quite common in the wild. It grows in dry areas, roadsides and wastelands, especially in the rocky and bushy places. It is tolerant of drought and shade and generally does not exceed an altitude of 300 metres above sea level.
Reproduction''Acanthus mollis'' is entomophilous and it is pollinated only by bees or bumble bees large enough to force their way between the upper sepal and the lower, so that they can reach the nectar at the bottom of the tube. The fruit is an ovoid capsule containing two to four large black seeds. The dispersal of seeds is by the wind .
These plants are usually propagated from tubers and tend to form large, localized clumps which can survive for several decades and look statuesque when well-grown, but its suitability as a garden plant is lessened on account of its invasive nature and its susceptibility to powdery mildew and attacks from snails.
CulturalThe leaves of this plant are generally considered by historians to have been the design inspiration for the Corinthian column capitals of Greco-Roman architecture.
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