How to Grow and Care for Ruscus

Bright red clusters of berries on dark green leafed shrub

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The Ruscus genus comprises roughly seven different species of flowering plants. The term "ruscus" is derived from an old Latin term meaning "prickly plants." One of the more widely-known varieties, Ruscus aculeatus, is known by the common name butcher's broom. Ruscus plants are related to both lilies and asparagus, though they really has very little else in common with those plants. Depending on the species, ruscus plants have wide-ranging origins, including northern Africa, Asia, and Europe.

The bright green leaves and red berries of ruscus create vibrant color in winter, making it a desirable landscape plant. Ruscus is a low-growing shrub. It averages about 3 feet tall. It grows well in shady wooded areas and adds color to the woodland garden. Some varieties are rounded and compact, some erect and a bit taller, while others have a spreading habit due to their rhizome rooting system.

Common Name Butcher's broom, horse tongue lily
Botanical Name  Ruscus 
Family  Asparagaceae
Plant Type  Shrub
Mature Size  3 ft. tall, 2-4 ft. wide
Sun Exposure  Partial, full
Soil Type  Well-drained
Soil pH  Acidic
Bloom Time  Spring
Flower Color  White, purple, yellow
Hardiness Zones  6-9 (USDA)
Native Areas Africa, Asia, Europe
Evergreen shrub with pointed oval leaves and bright red berries in woodland setting

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Ruscus Care

Ruscus is a fairly low-maintenance plant and establishes easily in the right conditions. It isn't bothered by pests or diseases, and deer leave it alone. Birds are attracted to the berries in winter, and some may perch within the prickly leaves for protection from wind and safety from predators.


Ruscus thrives in full or partial shade, and because it is drought-tolerant, will do well in your dry shade areas. If it gets too much sun in hot weather, the color may fade.


This plant is tolerant of many soil types, including clay or alkaline soils. Its preferred soil culture is a well-drained, slightly acidic sandy loam. It does not do well in wet soils as this can cause the roots to rot over time.


Although ruscus is known to be very drought-tolerant, regular doses of rain keep the foliage looking vibrant. If there is a long period of hot dry weather and the foliage begins to fade, deep watering every three days or so will help revive it.

Temperature and Humidity

Ruscus is generally only cold-hardy to zone 6 in the United States. If grown in a place with harsh winters, planting near a structure for wind protection is a good idea. Ruscus enjoys warm temperatures and does fine in humidity.


On average, ruscus shrubs can grow about 3 feet tall and wide, although several cultivars have been developed to make smaller, more compact plants (about 18 inches tall). Ruscus has creeping roots that generally lead to a sizeable clumping growth habit.

The leaf-like structures of this plant are miniature. They aren't leaves but are shoots or modified stems that feature a flower or fruit in the center. The tiny greenish-white flowers are about 1/16-inch in size.

Types of Ruscus

Ruscus comprises a large genus of similar plants; the seven different species in this genus are as follows:

  • Ruscus asculeatus: This variety is widely known as butcher's broom, and is native to Eurasia. It tolerates deep shade and is often found growing in woodlands. The flowers are white touched with purple. These evergreen shrubs can grow up to 3 feet tall. This variety is the most common source of cultivars often grown in the USA.
  • Ruscus colchicus: This type is native to Caucasus and is found in mountainous regions there.
  • Ruscus hypoglossum: This variety is native to central and southeast Europe and Turkey. It is also known by the common folk names of spineless butcher's broom, mouse thorn, and horse tongue lily. It grows about 18 inches high and has small yellow flowers. The leaves are flattened and somewhat smoother and less prickly than other varieties.
  • Ruscus hypophyllum: Native to Iberia and northwest Africa. Another version of spineless butcher's broom. This one is often used in the floral trade as foliage.
  • Ruscus hyrcanus: This variety is native to Crimea, Iran, and Armenia. It has a compact shape and grows to a maximum height of about 20 inches. It is known for its many prickly branches and is considered a somewhat-endangered native plant species to be protected in Azerbaijan.
  • Ruscus microglossus: This variety is native to southern Europe.
  • Ruscus streptophyllus: This variety is native to Madeira.

There are also a few different cultivars available for home gardens. Unless noted, all of these require both male and female plants for pollination and berry production, similar to holly and yew shrubs.

  • 'John Redmond': This has very glossy red berries and is a nice choice for winter interest and attracting songbirds. It has a spreading growth habit.
  • 'Christmas Berry': As its name suggests, this one produces an impressive display of brightly colored berries that remain through the winter season. It tends to be slower-growing than other varieties.
  • 'Wheeler's Variety': This one is hermaphroditic, which means it self-pollinates, can be planted on its own, and will still produce berries.
  • 'Sparkler': This popular creeping variety is an effective ground cover and produces an abundance of red-orange berries.
  • 'Elizabeth Lawrence': Also hermaphroditic, this compact variety has erect stems that produce large red berries.


Being a slow-growing and well-shaped perennial, ruscus doesn't require much pruning. Damaged branches or leaves should be trimmed as needed. Dead shoots should be cut to ground level in spring.

Propagating Ruscus

Ruscus can be propagated by sowing seeds, division, or stem cutting if you're up for a challenge. Pruning is beneficial for thinning out a bush that might be overgrowing an area; it helps keep the original specimen healthy. You can use healthy pruned stems for stem cutting. If trying to propagate by cutting, the best time is midsummer to mid autumn. First, here's how to divide a ruscus plant, a much easier propagation method:

  1. Pull the plant out of the pot or ground. Inspect the roots, gently brush away the lingering soil, and untangle the thick, rhizomatous roots.
  2. Small baby offshoots that pull away easily from the root bundle usually form alongside the parent. Those are good for starting a new plant. Take that and plant it in a pot with compost-enriched soil.
  3. You can divide the root ball into thirds or halves by gently pulling the plant and roots apart. Keep root breakage minimal.
  4. Replant the new section in compost-enriched soil.

Here's how to propagate by cutting:

  1. You'll need sterilized scissors, a sharp knife or pruning snips, rooting hormone, a clean pot, and compost-enriched potting soil. If you have a glass cloche or dome to give it a greenhouse environment, the plant will have a higher chance of rooting success. You can substitute a clear plastic bag as a cloche alternative.
  2. Take a 5-inch cutting from a semi-hardwood stem from the current year's growth of ruscus. A semi-hardwood stem piece should be hard at the bottom of the stem and soft at the top.
  3. Remove the lowest leaves from the cutting. Dip the cut end into the rooting hormone. Plant the cut end in the center of the pot with potting soil.
  4. Place the plant in a warm spot with partial sun—dappled light is best.

How to Grow Ruscus From Seed

Seeds can be harvested from female plants. They need a period of cold stratification before planting in late winter or early spring. Grow them in a sunny window or greenhouse, making sure they receive adequate water. They may also benefit from some soil nutrients every other month.

Ruscus germination is extremely slow; it can take up to 12 months. Once seedlings appear, grow them in containers for another year before planting them outside. The young plants may be susceptible to slug damage, but slugs will leave them alone once they mature and grow a prickly surface.

How to Get Ruscus to Bloom

The plant bears flowers in late winter and these appear in the middle of the leaf instead of a stem. Flower color can also vary, from white to greenish-white to purple to yellow, although in general, the flowers are not showy on this plant, and the red berries are the main source of visual interest.

Some varieties require pollination to produce berries, and some do not; the female plants produce berries, but hermaphroditic plants will also produce them. The berries grow in clusters, or sometimes singly, and are round with a slightly flattened top and bottom.

  • How is ruscus different from holly?

    Ruscus plants are much slower growing than holly, and only reach a maximum of 3 feet, so they need much less pruning than holly shrubs and can be grown in smaller landscapes.

  • Can I grow ruscus in zone 5?

    With winter protection and mulch, you may be able to grow ruscus in this zone. Be sure it is planted near a structure for additional cold and wind protection.

  • How long will ruscus live?

    Many slow-growing plants tend to be longer-lived plants. This shrub can live about 25 years.

  • Can ruscus grow indoors?

    Ruscus is a great plant to grow indoors since its light requirements are minimal. Keep in mind that it is a prickly plant so place it away from casual contact.

  • Can you grow ruscus from cuttings?

    The success rate of rooting from a stem is challenging but possible. To increase rooting success, use a rooting hormone and remove the bottom leaves from the stem. Use a well-draining, compost-enriched potting soil. Also, give the plant a greenhouse-like increased humidity environment to encourage root growth.

Article Sources
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  1. Ruscus aculeatus. American University of Beirut Faculty of Agriculture and Food Sciences.