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)
© OThomé


  • 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.

Missouri Botanical Garden. Ruscus aculeatus. Plant Finder.

Thomé, O.W. 1885. Ruscus aculeatus [Illustration]. 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