We love the evergreen ruscus in garden, but realize they are a plant that will never be found at most mainstream garden centers. A genus of only 6 currently recognized species, native from Europe into Eurasia, these horticultural oddities are so odd that they once qualified to have their own plant family, Ruscaceae.
Now, with improved DNA testing, they were found to actually be members of the Asparagus family. Exactly where within the Asparagus family is still an ongoing debate. Within the last decade, they were grouped with Nolina and Dasylirion, which to those of us who work with live plants, made no sense. Most likely, they will wind up in their own section, but as distant cousins to better know genera like Rohdea and Liriope.
Ruscus are great evergreen plants for dry shade, in regions where they are winter hardy, which is usually Zone 7b and south. Ruscus are unique in that they don’t produce leaves, but instead have leaf like structures known as cladodes, from which the tiny flowers emerge. All ruscus species have both separate male and female plants, although there are four hermaphroditic (bi-sexual) cultivars of Ruscus aculeatus in commerce, which produce the lovely red fruit without a mate.
The most common ruscus species in cultivation is Ruscus aculeatus, which has a wide range from Western Europe through the Caucuses. A handful of named cultivars of Ruscus aculeatus can be found in the gardens. Below is a photo this month of Ruscus ‘Sparkler’ a self-fruiting form, whose 2′ tall height is mid-way between Ruscus ‘Elizabeth Lawrence’ and Ruscus ‘Wheeler’.
Ruscus hypophyllum is a species, which ranges from Spain to Northern Africa, that’s rarely cultivated in the US. Other than the very tender Ruscus streptophyllus, this has proven to the be the next most tender species. Prior to trying these new forms of Ruscus hypophyllum, which were planted in early 2020, we had only grown a single clone, which had consistently died in our Zone 7b winters. These new plants are seedlings, grown from an Alan Galloway seed collection in Majorca, Spain.
Ruscus hypoglossum, which hails from Italy to Turkey, is a similar sounding species that we were fortunate to study in the wilds of Slovenia a few years ago, where it grew in mountainous open forests.
Ruscus x microglossum (below) is a natural hybrid between Ruscus hypophyllum and Ruscus hypoglossum…quite a tongue-full.
Ruscus colchicus is a species we fell in love with during a trip to Hillier’s Arboretum in 2005. Hailing from NW Turkey to the Western Caucuses, Ruscus colchicus is possibly the most elegant garden species. We are fortunate to have three different clones growing at JLBG, which we hope to one day have enough to share.
Voted least likely to be found in an ex-situ plant collection is Ruscus hyrcanus, a species, whose native range is from the Crimea into Iran. In appearance it somewhat resembles a dwarf, horizontal-growing version of Ruscus aculeatus. We are thrilled to have been able to offer this little-cultivated species in the past through Plant Delights.
We hope you’ll take notice of these great evergreens during your next visit to JLBG.