ACANTHUS (the Greek and Latin name for the plant, connected with ake, a sharp point), a genus of plants belonging to the natural order Acanthaceae. The species are natives of the southern parts of Europe and the warmer parts of Asia and Africa. The best-known is Acanthus mollis (brank-ursine, or bears' breech), a common species throughout the Mediterranean region, having large, deeply cut, hairy, shining leaves. Another species, Acanthus spinosus, is so called from its spiny heaves. They are bold, handsome plants, with stately spikes, 2 to 3 ft. high, of flowers with spiny bracts. A. mollis, A. lalifolius and A. longifolius are broad-leaved species; A. spinosus and A. spinosissimus have narrower, spiny toothed leaves. In decoration, the acanthus was first reproduced in metal, and subsequently carved in stone by the Greeks. It was afterwards, with various changes, adopted in all succeeding styles of architecture as a basis of ornamental decoration. There are two types, that found in the Acanthus spinosus, which was followed by the Greeks, and that in the Acanthus mollis, which seems to have been preferred by the Romans.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)