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Butcher's Broom in the Garden

I recently acquired Ruscus aculeatus, commonly called Butcher's Broom, for my woodland garden. A spot near a tree needed an evergreen to provide some winter interest. Historically, butchers used this plant to make brooms for their shops, thus the name. Butcher's Broom grows to about two to three feet, with small stiff leaves terminating with single, sharp spines. Because of its height, another common name is Knee Holly. 

When I first saw the plant at the nursery, I eyed the prickly leaves with doubt. One needs thick gloves to handle this plant! However, the dark green, lustrous leaves are quite beautiful, reminiscent of holly leaves, although Butcher's Broom is in the lily family, not holly. What won me over are the berries: bright red and marble-sized!

A native to southern England, Butcher's broom grows in US hardiness zones 7 - 9. It loves moist, well-drained situations, but it adapts to most soils and is drought-tolerant. It is an excellent choice for woodlands, enjoying partial to full shade. Small greenish-white flowers are produced in spring. Traditionally, one needed both male and female plants for berry production, but there are now hermaphrodite forms available that have both stamens and pistils (the male and female parts) on the same plant. This is the type I was fortunate to find for my own garden. The flowers are followed by large berries that ripen to scarlet red in September, then provide a cheerful decorative note to the garden all the way into January.

Butcher's Broom will happily survive neglect. Old leaves will turn to brown skeletons after several years, and one may want to remove them, but otherwise little care is needed. New leaves will have grown to take the place of old ones. The plant will slowly spread by rhizomes and may eventually form a small colony.

I put my Butcher's Broom close to a path in the woodlands so I can enjoy it on my walks, but left plenty of room for it to expand without endangering visitors with its sharp leaf-tips. I think an evergreen fern would make a great companion, so I plan to place a native holly fern nearby. I am fortunate that here in Alabama the ground does not freeze in winter, so on a pretty day I can get out and plant in the garden!

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Reader Comments (20)

Hi Deb, what an interesting plant you have acquired. It is new to me and I was surprised that this plant is native to Southern England. I assumed, it would come from a dry dessert area. Planting it together with a fern is an excellent ideal. I hope you enjoy your new garden baby a lot in the future. Wishing you a nice rest of the weekend!

January 10, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterchristina

When I saw the reference to butcher's broom, I checked the identity of a plant I acquired at a fall plant sale. I knew it was part of the Ruscus genus but I was uncertain of the species. The label bore the same common name but mine has has larger "leaves" and hasn't produced any berries. My records show that mine is Ruscus hypoglossum. Unlike R. aculeatus, mine may not be a hermaphrodite. The leaf tips of mine aren't sharp either but, otherwise, it seems to want the same conditions as your species. Interesting plant. I found a warning on the Dave's Garden site that mine might be poisonous to cats, which is a worry.

January 10, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKris P

Such a stalwart plant and florists here also love using it too!

January 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMark and Gaz

Thank you for the interesting information about this beautiful plant !
Have a nice Sunday !

January 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterEla

I've never heard of this plant, but plan to keep an eye out for it now. Those berries - wow!

January 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterChristi {Jealous Hands}

How fun! Love the berries! And, if you ever need to prune it, you can use the pruned parts to make a broom :)

January 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterIndie

Well, its also new to me as well, I get a feeling I have probably seen it and thought it was a form of Holly. A plant to consider for the woodland.

January 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAlistair

What an attractive plant, thanks for letting us know about it. Too bad it's not hardy around here.

January 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJason

holly fern, I like the sound of that!

January 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDiana Studer

What a wonderful bit of information, I have a couple of spots where an evergreen with bright red berries would be a perfect compliment to the landscape. I am moving a couple of shrubs in early February so a trip to the nursery to take a look is now on my schedule.

January 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterCharlie@Seattle Trekker

Yes, lucky you to be able to plant year-round! That's a pretty plant and I love the name. As Mark and Gaz say, it does look like a great plant for floral arrangements.

January 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBeth @ PlantPostings

This is a plant that grows wild here in shade known a 'pungi topi' (prick the mouse), I wrote about it last Jaunuary here: https://myhesperidesgarden.wordpress.com/2014/01/22/gbfd-an-alternative-to-box/ the cuttings I took failed to grow but I will try again.

January 12, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

I never grew that plant (zone denial withstanding) but any plant that survives neglect is one I appreciate. Happy anywhere is a plant we all can take a lesson from. I think a fern would be great texture for it too. Nice you positioned it for your walks. Many people don't think about that aspect of design.

January 12, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDonna

I planted a couple on the banks of the ditch that separate the garden from the woodland. This is the first year they have been covered in red berries, they look so lovely and spread so slowly for me, so I can't imagine it will be a nuisance!

January 12, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPauline

looks like a really useful and attractived filler. I have planted some prickly plants because I have learned they provide refuge for small birds that are intimidated by the large aggressive birds we have here like wattlebirds.

January 13, 2015 | Unregistered Commentercatmint

'Will happily survive neglect'- what a precious quality!
Thank you Deb! I think I've never heard about this plant. Very interesting plant with berries as a bonus!

January 13, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterTatyana

Ground doesn't freeze here in Florida, either, but we've had precious few pretty days since January rolled in.

January 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLinda Jones

I took a look at it's hardiness zones and understood why I never see it here. One hard winter and it would be a goner. But it sounds like a rugged plant and I love those berries! I love tough, easy care shrubs like this one.

January 17, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterCasa Mariposa

When I opened this post I thought it was going to be a post about a plant with yellow flowers. Clearly I didn't know what Butcher's Broom is! lol the fruit reminds me of Poet's Laurel. It looks very pretty and Christmas-y.

January 21, 2015 | Unregistered Commentersweetbay

I had heard of these plants but never seen them...looks quite interesting.

January 30, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDonna@Gardens Eye View

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