There is nothing subtle about these plants. Bold and coarse textured, they make a grand statement in any garden. Native to southern Europe and the Mediterranean, they feature large, deeply lobed, sometimes spiny leaves in clumps to about 3 ft. wide. The flowers that appear in late spring or summer are a sight to beholdtall spikes of hooded, whitish, rose, or purple blossoms beneath green or purplish bracts.
These tough plants have spreading roots and can be invasive in rich soil, so give them plenty of room or confine their roots with a barrier at least 8 in. deep. Extended drought causes the leaves to yellow and wither in summer; deep watering or rain results in a flush of fresh foliage. Plants do fine in shade gardens, where their foliage and flowers combine well with hostas and ferns. They also thrive in drier, sunny spots in the company of daylilies (Hemerocallis), bearded irises, and ornamental grasses. Good drainage is important. Deer resistant.
A. hungaricus (A. balcanicus). HUNGARIAN BEAR'S BREECHES. Somewhat smaller than A. mollis, with more finely cut and toothed leaves.
A. mollis. BEAR'S BREECHES. Most commonly grown species. To 45 ft. high in bloom. Spineless leaves to 2 ft. long are deeply lobed and cut. 'Latifolius' has larger leaves and is hardier. 'Holland's Gold' has the same big, glossy leaves, but golden green. 'Tasmanian Angel' is a variegated form with creamy white edges and some stippling that fades to green in midsummer.
A. spinosus. SPINY BEAR'S BREECHES. Similar to A. mollis in size, but leaves are more finely cut and armed with long spines. Foliage is silvery on the true species. Hybrids have bright green leaves and are known as the Spinosissimus Group.
A. 'Summer Beauty'. Thought to be a hybrid between A. mollis and A. spinosus. It's similar to A. mollis, but it has more finely cut foliage and is better suited to hot, humid summers.