This small Mediterranean genus of evergreens was once part of the large cumbersome lily family. The closest relations are Danae and Semele but Asparagus is also closely related, the similarities are most easily seen in the emerging new stems which all look like well grown asparagus shoots for the table.
There are six species, the commonest, Ruscus aculeatus (butcher's broom) is a British native. The others are species from around the Mediterranean, Madeira and Iran. There are two distinct growth forms, butcher's broom is one of the two prickly species, the others have soft foliage, one (R. hypophyllum) is used commercially and with Danae racemosa is available as cut foliage from local florists. All species have attractive red berries but some species have male and female flowers on separate plants. Although it does not fruit the male is still needed for pollination of the female. Butcher’s broom does produce individual plants with both sexes and these plants are listed as ‘hermaphrodite’ in the Plant Finder. Isolated female plants may not fruit simply because of the isolation, it is possible to buy a specific male plant to grow behind it.
Ruscus are easy to grow, thriving in shade and surviving well through occasional drought situations.