acanthus əkăn´thəs [key], common name for a member of the Acanthaceae, a family of chiefly perennial herbs and shrubs, mostly native to the tropics. A few members of the family, many of which have decorative spiny leaves, are cultivated as ornamentals—especially the Mediterranean acanthus, or bear's-breech (genus Acanthus), whose ornate leaves were the source of a stylized motif used in Greek and Roman art (see Corinthian order). In Christian art the acanthus symbolizes heaven. Some species of the genus Ruellia are native to and cultivated as ornamentals in North America, chiefly in the South. Acanthus is classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Scrophulariacles.
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