Ruscus aculeatus
Common Name: butcher's broom 
Type: Broadleaf evergreen
Family: Asparagaceae
Native Range: Northern Africa, western Asia, Europe
Zone: 7 to 9
Height: 2.00 to 3.00 feet
Spread: 2.00 to 3.00 feet
Bloom Time: April to May
Bloom Description: Greenish-white
Sun: Part shade to full shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Hedge
Flower: Insignificant
Leaf: Evergreen
Fruit: Showy
Other: Winter Interest
Tolerate: Drought, Heavy Shade

Culture

Easily grown in average, medium moisture, well-drained soils in part shade to full shade. Prefers sundappled or light shady locations, but will survive in heavy shade. Established plants tolerate dry sandy soils. Avoid wet soils. Cut out dead stems at the base in spring. Most plants in the genus Ruscus are dioecious (separate male and female plants) except for this species which sometimes has hermaphrodite self-fertile flowers. Notwithstanding its occasional hermaphroditic potential, plants of both sexes are recommended (one male per six females) in order to produce maximum fruit set.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Ruscus aculeatus, commonly called butcher's broom, knee holly or piaranthus, is a prickly, mounded, rhizomatous, suckering, evergreen sub-shrub that is native to Europe, the Black Sea area, northern Africa and the Azores. It typically grows to 2-3' tall and as wide. Actual leaves of this shrub are microscopic. The ovate, thick, spiny-tipped, glossy dark green, leaf-like structures (to 1 1/2" long) look like leaves but are in fact flattened leaf-like shoots (modified stems) called cladophylls on which the flowers and fruits are borne. Six-tepaled, star-shaped, greenish white flowers (1/16" across) bloom singly or in pairs on the upper sides of the cladophylls in spring. Flowers are not showy. Female or hermaphrodite flowers are followed by showy, spherical to oblong, waxy red berries (3/8" across) which mature from late summer to winter.

Genus name comes from the Latin name.

Specific epithet means prickly.

Common names for this shrub include butcher's broom (bunches of stems were once used to clean butcher blocks) and knee holly (shrub rises to knee level and features prickly, evergreen, leaf-like cladophylls reminiscent of holly leaves).

Problems

No serious insect or disease problems.

Garden Uses

Small evergreen shrub noted for growing in dense shade. Woodland gardens. Foundations. Hedge.