Photo by Melody

PlantFiles: Bear's Breeches, Oyster Plant
Acanthus spinosus

Family: Acanthaceae (ah-kanth-AY-see-ee) (Info)
Genus: Acanthus (a-KANTH-us) (Info)
Species: spinosus (spy-NO-sus) (Info)

5 vendors have this plant for sale.

11 members have or want this plant for trade.

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24-36 in. (60-90 cm)

USDA Zone 5a: to -28.8 C (-20 F)
USDA Zone 5b: to -26.1 C (-15 F)
USDA Zone 6a: to -23.3 C (-10 F)
USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 C (-5 F)
USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 C (0 F)
USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 C (5 F)
USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 C (10 F)
USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 C (15 F)
USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 C (20 F)
USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 C (25 F)
USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 C (30 F)
USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 C (35 F)
USDA Zone 11: above 4.5 C (40 F)

Sun Exposure:
Sun to Partial Shade

Plant has spines or sharp edges; use extreme caution when handling

Bloom Color:
White/Near White

Bloom Time:
Late Spring/Early Summer
Mid Summer


Other details:
Average Water Needs; Water regularly; do not overwater

Soil pH requirements:
6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)
6.6 to 7.5 (neutral)
7.6 to 7.8 (mildly alkaline)

Patent Information:

Propagation Methods:
From seed; direct sow outdoors in fall
From seed; winter sow in vented containers, coldframe or unheated greenhouse
From seed; sow indoors before last frost
From seed; direct sow after last frost

Seed Collecting:
Bag seedheads to capture ripening seed

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4 positives
3 neutrals
No negatives

Gardeners' Notes:

Positive coriaceous On Feb 20, 2014, coriaceous from ROSLINDALE, MA wrote:

A superb garden perennial that deserves to be better known and more often grown. If it didn't bloom, it would be worth growing for the glossy, statuesque foliage alone.

The flower stems are showy and look good in arrangements. Though the white petals fade quickly, the showy green-and-purple bracts stand up well in the garden for months. They also dry well.

It's only the flower stems and bracts that have sharp spines. The spiny-looking projections on the leaves are soft. Acanthus spinosus var. spinosissimus (AKA Acanthus spinosissimus, Acanthus 'Spinosissimus') is spiny as a porcupine. It helps, when shopping, to remember that "spinosus" means "spiny", but "spinosissimus" means "spiniest". It also helps to check out the tips of the leaves, gently.

This is at least a zone hardier than A. mollis, perhaps two. Near the northern limit of its hardiness, exceptionally cold winters may destroy the year's flower buds, but generally don't affect the foliage. A. hungaricus seems to be about half a zone hardier than A. spinosus, but I don't find its foliage to be quite as handsome---it's certainly not as lustrous.

This is the last plant to go in the fall. The leaves are unaffected by the first frosts and look good well after the rest of the perennial border is gone.

In the spring, this plant is among the last to emerge from dormancy. That makes it a good candidate for underplanting with spring bulbs.

Does well in full sun or part shade. It's more shade tolerant than generally admitted.

This transplants reliably (though not without grumbling) in earliest spring, while still dormant. It will take a year or more to re-establish, and until it does, it will need more consistent moisture. It also re-grows reliably from root cuttings, so it always reappears after being dug out. If you want to eradicate a clump, use herbicide. If you want more plants, stick a spade into the ground beside it to cut some roots.

In southeastern North America, Acanthus can be aggressive in the border. I haven't found that to be the case here in Boston Z6a.

Positive janaestone On Jun 15, 2011, janaestone from (Di) Seven Mile, OH (Zone 6b) wrote:

Absolutely beautiful, unique plant. The flowers are a very pretty dusky purple with white. This plant has survived extremely cold winters here with no problem. I've been told this is a shade plant but I have three of them in full sun in different parts of my yard and I've never had any problems with them. The only it hates is being moved. It wilts almost immediately upon being taken out of the ground and will appear dead until the following spring. Once I moved mine it took two years before it bloomed again. It is definitely a 'showcase' plant as it will be the center of attention once it blooms!

Positive budstockwell On Jun 19, 2010, budstockwell from Leeds, MA (Zone 5b) wrote:

It's taken several years but now my plant has produced it's first bloom. Very different plant, it has survived some very cold winters (-20F)

Positive lmelling On Oct 4, 2005, lmelling from Ithaca, NY (Zone 5b) wrote:

I was given several starts of this plant 2 years ago and told that it was A.'Mollis'. Of course I found out that it is actually A. 'spinosus'. Neither type of Acanthus, according to plant guide I have, can grow in our zone, however, it grows here fine and at several friends' homes as well. I had my first bloom this July.

Ours is planted in our shade garden under white pines. The shelter keeps this area a little warmer in winter and may be the reason it survives for us here. According to an encylcopedia of plants the zone for this type (and A.'mollis' as well), is zone 7-10. Of course, because of the spines, this plant and it's blooms are quite deer resistant!

Blooms can be dried by hanging upside down and keep quite well for a year or so. Cut at the height of flowering for best results. Be careful when handling because of the spines!

Neutral SalmonMe On Apr 2, 2005, SalmonMe from Springboro, OH (Zone 6a) wrote:

Likes morning sun in zone 6. Well-draining soil is of high importance, and may need a winter mulching in cooler zones. Divide in spring every 5 years or so to maintain vigor. 'Spinossisimus' is very spiny and unpleasant to handle, but other forms are much less so.

Neutral pokerboy On Sep 3, 2004, pokerboy from Canberra
Australia (Zone 8b) wrote:

This plant is less common than acanthus mollis. Its leaves are more deeply divided than acanthus mollis. They produce flower stalks that resemble each other. pokerboy.

Neutral smiln32 On Aug 1, 2002, smiln32 from Oklahoma City, OK (Zone 7a) wrote:

Bear's Breeches is a relatively uncommon shade perennial that is becoming increasingly available in the nursery trade, prized for its large, arching, bold-textured foliage, unusual floral spikes, and ability to cover large areas of ground when mature.


This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:

, (2 reports)
Clovis, California
San Leandro, California
Santa Monica, California
Boise, Idaho
Washington, Illinois
Shawnee Mission, Kansas
Kennebunkport, Maine
Silver Spring, Maryland
Leeds, Massachusetts
Roslindale, Massachusetts
South Deerfield, Massachusetts
Ludington, Michigan
Boone, North Carolina
Greenville, North Carolina
Cincinnati, Ohio
Columbus, Ohio
Hamilton, Ohio
Springboro, Ohio
Clackamas, Oregon
Haverford, Pennsylvania
Norristown, Pennsylvania
Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania
Donna, Texas
Fort Worth, Texas
Leesburg, Virginia
Quilcene, Washington
Seattle, Washington
Charleston, West Virginia

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