Ruscus hypoglossum

Ruscus hypoglossum.
Ruscus hypoglossum. / SUR
  • This unusual evergreen shrub has flattened stems instead of leaves, tiny flowers and bright red berries

Native to Central and South Eastern Europe, Ruscus hypoglossum or Spineless Butcher's Broom, is a drought and shade tolerant shrub that is found growing in the understory of forests in the wild.

Other common names include Mouse Thorn and Horse Tongue lily and it is a member of the large asparagaceae family (114 genera and over 2,900 known species).

Ruscus hypoglossum has long arching stems and is not fussy about soil type as long as at is free draining. It will reach approximately one metre tall and eventually form a large clump. It will tolerate some sun although it will be happier in dappled shade, is drought resistant and can survive short periods of frost. The specific epithet (hypoglossum) comes from the Greek 'hypo' and 'glossus' meaning 'under' and 'tongue'. This probably refers to the appearance of a single flower, followed by a single, crimson berry, on the surface of the 'leaf'. The 'leaves' are actually flattened stems or phylloclades; the true leaves form like tiny scales around the equally tiny, yellow or white flowers.

The most striking aspect of this plant is the bright red berries that give it a festive look. It is a popular plant for flower arranging and is also grown for ground cover in shady, dry areas such as under trees and other plants.

The smaller 'leafed' Ruscus aculeatus, or 'Butcher's Broom', has prickly phylloclades and apparently was once used to clean butcher's chopping blocks. Extracts of this species have been shown to have an anti inflammatory effect and cause contraction of the blood vessels. However all parts of the plant (and all species of Ruscus) are toxic and will cause severe stomach cramps if ingested.

The species R. colchicus is unusual as it bears the flowers and berries on the underside of the phylloclades.

Propagation can be carried out by seed or by division.