Holly is not the only plant to bear red berries at Christmas time. Butcher’s Broom also offers a flash of bright red in December. I find it locally in woodland and in some hedgerows. It is commonly known as Knee Holly in Kent. This seems an appropriate name as the shrub grows at about knee height. According to the Englishman’s Flora, the plant was traditionally used for Christmas decorations in both churches and homes.
The common name Butcher’s Broom relates to another traditional use. It is claimed that butchers used it to clean their meat-cutting blocks, keep flies away and as decoration. Research has shown that it possesses some antibacterial properties.
Butcher’s Broom is in the Asparagaceae or Asparagus family. The plant has a fascinating botanical structure. What appear to be prickly leaves are in fact flattened stems known as cladodes. The greenish flowers and subsequent green, then red berries appear in the centre of these structures.
The epithet aculeatus means prickly or thorny in Latin. The origin of the genus name Ruscus is more uncertain. Either it simply means plant or it comes from the Anglo-Saxon word for holly or boxwood. That brings us back to our Holly observation.
© Karen Andrews
References and Further Reading
- Grigson, Geoffrey (1996): The Englishman’s Flora. Helicon.
- Stonecrop.org (2014): Ruscus aculeatus.pdf
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