GBFD – An alternative to Box

Today’s post offers a possible solution to those who cannot grow Box Buxus sempervirens in their gardens anymore because of the spread of box blight.  Read more about the disease here.

When out walking in the countryside here I have often noticed a very attractive shrub that most often grows in woodland but sometimes even just in the hedgerows by the side of the lanes. It has a strange common name in Italian than means “prick the mouse” its Latin name is Ruscus aculeatus, a native of Europe, North Africa and West Asia.  One of its common names in English is Box holly or prickly Box, so you can see that it isn’t a new idea to think of it as having similar characteristics to Buxus species.

We saw some on our walk on 12th January and I resolved to return to take some cuttings.

Ruscus aculeatus with its attractive red berries

Ruscus aculeatus with its attractive red berries

I also saw it growing in the Hillier Gardens near Southampton just before Christmas on a bleak day that wasn’t ideal for garden visiting but that I enjoyed very much.

Ruscus aculeatus close up of foliage

Ruscus aculeatus close up of foliage

Hilliers, Ruscus aculeatus planted int

Hilliers, Ruscus aculeatus planted in the winter interest area of the garden

I’ll let you know if this proves an easy plant to cultivate; one obvious disadvantage is that it is slightly prickly as its common names in Italian and English suggest.

Ruscus Aculeatus 1 blog

Do you know of any plants native in your area that are good for pruning into tight shapes?

If you would like to join GBFD please just leave a comment with your link and a link back to me in your post.  I look forward to reading them.

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29 thoughts on “GBFD – An alternative to Box

  1. Hi Christina, I have noticed our local garden centre advertising Ilex crenata as an alternative for gardeners with Box blight. Luckily here I haven’t (yet) suffered blight. I haven’t grown Ruscus asculaetus and have just looked it up, the RHS say its generally disease and pest free, the berries are a lovely addition too, so a winner. Looking forward to hearing how you get on with your cuttings.

  2. Interesting plant, but it really doesn’t seem too friendly. Box will be hard to replace, I’m hoping that since I live in the middle of a horticultural wasteland I’m isolated enough to avoid the blight :/
    It’s a shame to see so many old standards falling victim to introduced blights, fungi and insects

  3. They grow wild here too in the woods and sometimes cover huge areas. Very pretty plant but I haven’t invited it into my garden yet. Surely a good alternative for milder regions.

  4. I would be sad to lose boxwood, although here in Texas our native dwarf yaupon holly is commonly used in place of it. Your Ruscus aculeatus is an attractive alternative, and I like the berries too.

    • Yes the berries are good, I must make sure I take my cuttings from a plant that has berries as Chloris says there are male and female plants, I need to check that. I don’t think box blight will be a problem in Texas with your dry conditions, the blight likes moist conditions which is why it is such a problem in the UK and northern Europe.

  5. So far box blight hasn’t struck in the garden here. I would be devastated to lose all my box balls, they have taken years to reach the size they are. My plants have a larger leaf than Buxus sempervirens, I think they are B.Suffruticosa, so maybe this variety is immune – I hope so.
    Sorry I haven’t joined in yet, I took all my photos and started preparing my post yesterday and then I suddenly found I couldn’t pick up my photos for my post ! I am now waiting for my son to sort me out!

    • Not all Box are affected and I think you’re right that B. suffruticosa is less prone to attack. I’ll look forward to reading your post whenever you manage to overcome the photo issues.

  6. I like the look of that, will be interesting to see how you get on with it. I am hoping that myrtle will lend itself to evergreen tightly pruned hedging, as I have loads of it thanks to the birds, plus it smells lovely and seems to flower for quite a long time too. And of course I have my teucrium plant, waiting for the weather to be dry long enough for me to clear the space it is to go in!

  7. The Ruscus grows wild around us in the woods in the Charente Maritime. I’ve found it excellent for shady areas and it does not seem to mind being dry in the summer. I’ve never wanted to trim it though, it doesn’t grow very tall here.

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