categoryZShrubs Shrubs List 
categoryZEvergreen Evergreen List 
categoryZBrooadleaf Broadleaf List 

BUTCHER'S BROOM

Ruscus aculeatus

(Formerly in: Lily Family [Liliaceae]], then [Ruscaceae])
Asparagus Family [Asparagaceae]

month8feb month8mar month8march month8apr month8april month8may

Berries: berryZpossible        berryZred (poisonous)
berry8may berry8jun berry8june berry8jul berry8july berry8aug

category
category8Shrubs
 
category
category8Evergreen
 
category
category8Broadleaf
 
status
statusZnative
 
flower
flower8white
 
inner
inner8mauve
 
morph
morph8actino
 
petals
petalsZ4
4 (not 6)
stem
stem8round
 
stem
stem8spines stem8thorns
 
stem
stem8fluted
 
toxicity
toxicityZlowish
 
contact
contactZlowish
 
sex
sexZdioecious
 

30th April 2013, Grange over Sands, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
A medium-height bush or shrub to 75cm.


15th June 2010, promenade gardens, Grange-over-Sands. Photo: © RWD
Has extremely stiff and upright branches.


15th June 2010, promenade gardens, Grange-over-Sands. Photo: © RWD
The stems are stiff, ribbed (or fluted as takes your fancy) and much branched. The plant apparently lacks leaves as such (but see notes below), the seemingly broad lanceolate 'leaves' are in fact modified stems called cladodes, and are quite thick, thicker than would be leaves. They are tipped by sharp stiff spines.


30th April 2013, Grange over Sands, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
 Female flower in centre of cladode. Stems ribbed.


30th April 2013, Grange over Sands, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
 Flowers beginning to open. Outer three sepals enclose inner three narrower sepals.


30th April 2013, Grange over Sands, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
 Un-opened flower bud in centre of cladode emerging just above the tiny true leaf.


18th April 2013, Manor Country Park, Hampshire. Photo: © Dawn Nelson
 The flowers have what appear to be six white/green petals, but these are actually the sepals, the petals themselves (of which there are only four) are smaller and white with green dots sited atop a short purple ovary, but here dropped off. The flower is sited on the concave side of the cladode.


18th April 2013, Manor Country Park, Hampshire. Photo: © Dawn Nelson
 Flowers.


18th April 2013, Manor Country Park, Hampshire. Photo: © Dawn Nelson
 Nominally, the flower has six sepals but this one is anomalous with 7 sepals. The small white things at the top might be the four small white petals?


30th April 2013, Grange over Sands, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
 Three wider sepals behind three narrower sepals. The Mauve-coloured blob will expend and redden to become a berry.


30th April 2013, Grange over Sands, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
This berry completely dwarfs the cladode it nestles within.


15th June 2010, promenade gardens, Grange-over-Sands. Photo: © RWD
There is a ridge ascending up the centre of each cladode which stops at the widest part, terminating in either a male or a female flower (which are on separate plants, it is dioecious). These are possibly (the remains of) male flowers?


15th June 2010, promenade gardens, Grange-over-Sands. Photo: © RWD
The cladodes appear to be covered in small glands and terminated in a very sharp and stiff spine. The leaf itself is the very small isosceles-triangular fawn-coloured projection with an even shorter green point in the centre of the cladode. The cladodes turn brown at the end of the season.


Not to be semantically confused with : Broom aka Scotch Broom (Cytisus scoparius) or Spanish Broom (Spartium junceum), [plants with similar names belonging to a differing family, the Pea family (Fabaceae)]

Some similarities to : Spineless Butcher's Broom (Ruscus hypoglossum), but that is much less frequent, lacks the sharp spines on the 'leaves' aka modified stems and the round stems are shorter.

Uniquely identifiable characteristics

Distinguishing Feature : The flower (or red berry) in the centre and apparently palmed by a lanceolate 'leaf'.

Butcher's Broom produces berries infrequently, they are red, between 8-13mm diameter and round. The spines on the 'leaves' (actually cladodes, which are thick and flattened modified stems) are sharp. The plant does have real leaves, but these are much reduced in size to tiny scale-like projections close to where the cladodes emerge.

The plant spreads by both bird-dropped seeds and vegetatively by underground rhizomes. It grows in dry woods and in hedgerows, tolerant of deep shade it will also grow on coastal cliffs. It is also planted in gardens from where it may escape.

The books claim that there are but four petals, but all many can see when they look for them are the six larger star-shaped sepals, the petals having dropped off earlier. The large red berries (fruits) contaim two seeds.

The derivation of the 'Broom' part of the vernacular name is unclear, the plant may have been used to make brooms but this seems unlikely given the sharp scratchy nature of the plant, however...

It contains between 0.8%-1.5% quinolizidine alkaloids, mainly Sparteine which stimulates uterine contraction. Scotch Broom (Cytisus scoparius) also contains Sparteine. Thus the 'Broom' part of the may have derived from the possibility that Butcher's Broom could, in traditional medicine, be substituted for Scotch Broom. Sparteine, a toxin itself, can also inhibit the proteins in some snake venoms and thus may prove useful to detoxify some snake venoms.

It also contains Ruscogenin, Neo-Ruscogenin and flavonoids.


  Ruscus aculeatus  ⇐ Global Aspect ⇒ Asparagaceae  

Distribution
 family8Asparagus family8Asparagaceae

 BSBI maps
genus8Ruscus
Ruscus
(Butcher's-Broom)

BUTCHER'S BROOM

Ruscus aculeatus

(Formerly in: Lily Family [Liliaceae]], then [Ruscaceae)
Asparagus Family [Asparagaceae]