why mediterranean in lower case? 

illustration of Danaë racemosa enlarge this image

Danaë racemosa, labeled as Ruscus angustifolius fructu summis ramulis innascente, from Hortus Romanus juxta Systema Tournefortianum, vol. 1: (1783-1816)

Danaë racemosa - emerging shoots enlarge this image

Asparagus-like emerging shoots of Danaë racemosa (in winter)

closeup of expanding stems of Danaë racemosa enlarge this image

Expanding stems and flowers of Danaë racemosa

The graceful foliage of Danaë racemosa, with berries ripening.

At a Glance

height: 3ft • 1m

width: 5ft • 2m

USDA: 7-10

well drained
rich, loamy
neutral PH
can be
a good deer


Danaë racemosa (L.) Moench 1794

dah…NAW…eh  r⋅r⋅rah…keh…MOH…sah

Asparagaceæ Nolinoideæ

Has also been placed in Ruscaceæ, Convallariaceæ, Liliaceæ

Danae : (see text) • racemosa : racemus - stalk of a cluster; a bunch of grapes

Alexandrian laurel, poet's laurel, soft ruscus Español: ruscus, rusco de racimo, laurel Alejandrino Française: laurier d'Alexandrie, lauréole, fragron à grappes Italiano: ruscus, rusco, lauro Alessandrino Português: ruscus italiano, Alexandrino louro Ελληνική (Greek): ρουσκοσ, μυρσινη Russian: Даная ветвистая

native to Greece, Turkey, Syria, Azerbaijan, Iraq & Iran, often in disjunct populations widely separated from each other

Synonymy: Ruscus racemosa (invalid name); Ruscus racemosus L. (basionym) 1753

The genus name come from Greek myth — Danaë [Δανάη] was the daughter of Acrisius; she gave birth to Perseus in response to a unique insemmination technique by the ever clever Zeus.  That this plant is related to Asparagus is obvious to anyone who has grown it.  While mature specimens may resemble a shrub, in fact the basal growing stems are not woody at all and last only 2-3 years, after which they are best cut off at the ground.  New stems arise annually, all at once, from this same base (looking remakably like asparagus spears), usually during winter in mediterranean climates.

One these basal shoots, what looks to be a leaf is actually a cladode.  These are 1-3in· 3-8cm in length, basally ovate, tapering to a slender tip, softer to the touch than its other cousin, Ruscus.  Some have described them as a cross between a bamboo and an asparagus.  Thick-textured and evergreen, they have a lush look and are bright green fading to a deeper green.

An ancient Greek coin depicting the god Appolo, with a δάφνινο στεφάνι (laurel wreath).

It has been argued that this is the 'laurel' used in Greek and Roman times to crown exemplary athletes, orators and poets.  I find this very probable — the flexible stems of this plant seem ready made for fashioning comfortable and attractive head-wreaths.  But it is vexing (if not surprizing) that the Italian common name, lauro alessandrino, is also routinely applied to a variety of other, similar-looking plants, almost anything with green leaves and red berries.  Dioscorides, the ancient herbalist, seemed to have called this plant χαμαιδάφνη (khamaidáphnē), while reserving δάφνη Ἀλεξάνδρεια (dáphnē Alexándreia) for the related and similar Ruscus hypoglossum.  Unfortunately, many medieval illustrations accompanying his work are so stylized that they obscure the differences between these plants.

The creamy-yellow flowers, often referred to as inconspicuous or 'unimportant', are indeed small, and borne in racemes at the secondary tips of the expanding branches.  This author finds them charming and fascinating in their structure.  These are followed in summer-fall by round, marble-sized, bright red-orange berries which persist into the following winter.  The branches are sometimes used a foliage filler in florist arrangements.

Lauro alessandrino (Danaë racemosa), looking very much like a RuscusI Discorsi di M. Pietro Andrea Mattioli, Venetia, Felice Valgrisio, 1597.

That the plant is maintenance-free and tough, especially useful for dry shade, makes it popular among those who have had the good fortune to become acquainted with this rare gem.  It is also very adaptable to container culture, and it graceful form is attractive slipping over the edges of a large urn.

Rarely seen commercially due to it slow propagation (seed) and growth (several years to a gallon-sized specimen).  This slow growth makes it a good choice for small gardens with limited space.  A very mature and well grown specimen could eveuntually reach 4-5ft· 1.2-1.5m tall and up to 6ft· 1.8cm wide, though typically it would be half that size.  Regardless of it's delicate, even tropical looks, Danaë is reliably hardy in mediterranean climates and slightly colder regions as well.

Danaë prefers a well-drained soil and likes to dry out between irrigation.  Though the plant is tolerant of summer drought, it retains it's foliage best if provided with an occasional deep, thorough watering in dry months.

Seán A. O'Hara

What others have to say

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Stephen Ryan - Mt Macedon, Australia

Dicksonia Rare Plants

This slow growing evergreen plant from South West Asia to Iran has long been on my want list and over the last few years it has come my way as it should come yours! It is called Poet’s Laurel or Alexandrian Laurel and is in fact the plant used to make the wreaths that crowned those who won merit in Ancient Greece and Rome.

It grows into an arching mound of glossy green cladodes which function as leaves and in due course will produce small green flowers and red berries although these aren’t the main game it is all about its elegant form and glossy mock foliage which by the way makes incredibly long lasting material for floral art once you have a good sized clump.

The other (and one could say most important) feature of this evergreen perennial is its love of shade and it can also cope well with dry soil. So although it can take some time to grow to its 1.2 metre height and width it will grow in areas that little else will.

Randy Stewart - Baltimore, MD

Future Plants

It is very drought tolerant and does grow in Mediterranean climates where it can become deciduous if not given a deep watering once or twice a month. In the Mediterranean most of its growth occurs during the winter rainy season instead of spring.  This plant grows in a similar way to Bamboo with each stem lasting about 3 years and then being replaced with new shoots.  Old or dead shoots should be pruned out to maintain a neat and clean appearance.

The Alexandrian Laurel is famous in Greece for its use in crowning winning athletes during the Greek and Roman times.


William T Stearn. 2004. Botanical Latin. Timber Press. ISBN 0881926272 / ISBN13 9780881926279 http://gimcw.org/books/bookinfo.cfm?bookid=blwts

Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). National Plant Germplasm System. USDA Agricultural Research Service. Website http://www.ars-grin.gov/npgs/aboutgrin.html

Friedrich Ehrendorfer. 1989. Woody Plants - Evolution and Distribution Since the Tertiary. Springer. ISBN 978-3211821244