How To Grow And Care For Ruscus Plants (Ruscus Spp.)

If you are searching for a plant that will thrive in a shaded part of your garden and fill in the gaps, bringing both height and color, one of the Ruscus species may be the answer.

These shrubs don’t need a lot of maintenance, and will still be evergreen even in the fiercest of winters.

Let’s take a look.

At A Glance: What You Need To Know About Ruscus Plants

Part of the asparagus plant family, Asparagaceae, these plants make a great statement, and there are six species to choose from in total. 

In particular, two are used in garden landscaping more than the others: Ruscus aculeatus, also known as the butcher’s broom, and Ruscus hypoglossum, known as the mouse thorn, spineless butcher’s broom, or horse tongue lily.

These plants hail from western and southern parts of Europe, the northwest parts of Africa, and southwest Asia, among others. These striking plants grow like shrubs, but never form woody stems unlike some shrubs.

To some people, the woody growth of shrubs as they mature is an ugly sight, often hidden by planting smaller plants in front.

In a garden space where there isn’t a lot of room, a ruscus shrub can make a great impact.

An interesting trait of this plant is that what you would assume are the leaves are not actually leaves at all. They are modified stems, which are called phylloclades, or cladodes, and do the same job as leaves, working to photosynthesize. 

These plants do have leaves, but they are absolutely tiny. 

Most species of ruscus grow to about 3 feet tall and the same in diameter, though the mouse thorn will grow to just under 50cm tall, making it ideal for a container.

These shrubs also bloom in spring, in white with a green tinge. While these flowers are small, only reaching 1.5mm, there are enough of them to make a big impact.

It’s worth noting that most ruscus species are dioecious, meaning that the male and female parts do not form on the same plant. 

You would need both a male and a female form to see any berries, which do form on the female plant when the flowers have finished, provided that they have been pollinated.

Another interesting thing about these plants is that the berries tend to form on the leaves.

Ruscus Varieties To Consider

Ruscus aculeatus ‘Wheeler’s Variety’

Featuring a lot of spines, ‘Wheeler’s Variety’ is perfect for under first floor windows or being next to fences, where you are unlikely to pass this plant, but where you can still enjoy its display.

This is a slow-growing form, reaching four foot tall gradually, and producing bright red berries in fall.

It will thrive in shady areas, even in very dry gardens, and will withstand deer and other visitors.

Ruscus aculeatus ‘Christmas Berry’

‘Christmas Berry’ is a very slow-growing variety, and will produce brilliant red berries in winter, as large as cherries! 

The leaves are very pointed, and the plant will produce very small pale green flowers that are typical of ruscus shrubs. 

Ruscus aculeatus ‘Lanceolatus’

As you might guess from the name, the ‘foliage’ on this particular ruscus is elongated and narrow like a lance. 

Starting Off: How To Grow Ruscus

You can grow ruscus shrubs from seed, propagate them from cuttings off an existing plant, or divide an established plant. 

The last method is probably the most useful if you already have this plant or know someone who does, as it grows outward.

For those who want a big impact quickly, growing ruscus from seed is not recommended. These plants are notorious for being slow-growing, and starting off from scratch will not get you a big display in a hurry.

If you want to take cuttings, make sure you take a rhizome cutting with a single bud, and plant them in the ground during the last few weeks of winter, or pot them up somewhere frost-free.

If you’re someone who would prefer to divide a ruscus plant, use two spades to do so at the roots when the plant is not actively growing.

It’s worth planting a male and a female plant together if you do want a show of red berries in the fall and winter. This will also provide plenty of food for wildlife during the leaner months, too.

Ruscus Plant Care

Ruscus plants are ideal in USDA zones 7 through 9, in a shady location. You can grow them in full shade, partial shade, or even somewhere that’s only partly shaded during the day, preferably in the afternoon.

One thing that these plants will not tolerate is constantly soggy soil. Preferably plant them somewhere that’s fairly dry.

They will withstand drought, heat, and high levels of salt in the soil, too, making them a great option for places other plants would not tolerate.

Getting The Best Out Of Ruscus In Your Garden

Ruscus plants look beautiful in dark and dry areas in your garden, in borders, beds, or containers. Smaller varieties are perfect for ground cover, too.

Final Thoughts

Ruscus shrubs are beautiful and will add color to any shady area, but there are a few things to consider before you plant them in your garden.

Ruscus shrubs are considered toxic, so you should not allow them to grow in gardens with pets or children, where they might be ingested.

Don’t forget that you will need both a female and male plant if you want to see berries in winter.

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