Butcher’s Broom Family

Slim Solomon’s Seal © KKorbholz

Ruscaceae (rus-KAY-see-ee)

Iconic Features

  • Clasping or sheathing leaves
  • Some without true leaves
  • Similar sepals and petals

Description (Jepson)

  • Monocotyledons (monocots) – monocots are a major lineage of flowering, mostly herbaceous plants, generally characterized by
    • Single seed leaf (cotyledon)
    • Linear or oblong leaves with parallel venation
    • Flower parts in threes
    • Pollen grains with a single pore
    • Vascular bundles scattered in stem
    • Fibrous root system
  • Perennial herbs or shrubs
  • Grows from seeds or rhizomes (horizontal underground stems)
  • Leaves
    • 2-15 basal or stem (cauline) leaves
      • Stem leaves clasping or sheathing the stem or reduced to scales
  • Flowers
    • Inflorescence (flower arrangement) is a panicle (branching stem with flowers opening from the bottom up) or raceme (unbranched stem with stalked flowers opening from the bottom up)
    • Bisexual or unisexual, radially-symmetric flowers
      • Parts in fours or sixes
      • Petals and sepals (outer flower parts) in 2 separate whorls, similar in appearance and collectively called tepals
      • Colors usually white to pinkish
    • Ovary superior (above the attachment of other flower parts)
  • Fruit is of 2 types
    • Berry (a usually multi-seeded fruit with a fleshy ovary wall)
    • Papery capsule (a dry, multi-chambered fruit that splits open at maturity)
Butcher’s Broom (Ruscus aculeatus)


  • Approximately 475 species
    • Found in the Northern Hemisphere, southern Africa, and northern Australia
    • Includes Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum species) and bear grass (Nolina species)
  • Some genera are “switch plants,” which lack true leaves and substitute flattened, green stems for photosynthesis
    • Called variously cladodes, cladophylls, or phylloclades, from the Greek klados, “branch” and phyllo, “leaf”
    • Some cladodes look very much like true leaves, e.g. butcher’s broom (Ruscus aculeatus)
  • Scientific name from included genus Ruscus, from the Latin name for plants in this genus
  • Common name from various Old World butcher’s broom plants (Ruscus species), whose flat, stiff branches were bundled to make small brooms (Engles 2010)
    • Butchers used the brooms to sweep and clean their cutting blocks
    • Cleansing was not only accomplished mechanically as the plants contain an antibacterial essential oil
  • In the past, variously classified in the Lily family (Liliaceae), and now sometimes treated as a subfamily of the Asparagus family (Asparagaceae)
  • Represented by 2 species at Edgewood

See General References

Specific References

Engels, G. 2010. Butcher’s broom (Ruscus aculeatus). HerbalGram 85: 1-4. American Botanical Council.

Ruscus aculeatus – Plant Finder. Missouri Botanical Garden.

Thomé, O.W. 1885. Illustration of Ruscus aculeatus in Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz, Gera, Germany. Public Domain.

Watson, L. and M.J. Dallwitz. 1992 onward. Angiosperm families – Ruscaceae Spreng. The Families of Flowering Plants.

Browse Some Edgewood Plants in this Family