Butchers broom is uncommon in southern UK and gets rarer the further north you go. In Hampshire it is widespread in the southern half but rare on the chalk.
Butchers broom is known as an ‘ancient woodland indicator’. This is because it doesn’t colonise new habitats or spread easily to new woods; where it is growing, the wood has usually been there for a very long time. The New Forest has many ancient woods and especially high numbers of butchers broom plants. Look beneath the deciduous trees, even in the more shaded areas.
There is a lot of butchers broom in the deciduous woods at Linwood to the north-east of Ringwood – it can even be spotted from the roadside.
ID tip – Butchers broom is quite unlike any other British plant. It is a short evergreen bush growing up to about two feet high and all the leaves end in a pointed spike; one of its old English names is ‘knee holly’. In early spring, the tiny, pale green six-petalled flowers sit in the middle of the leaf and show that these leaves are, technically, flattened stems.
Butchers broom was used to scour butcher’s blocks until the nineteenth century. The spiky leaves seem ideal for getting into the cuts of old wooden blocks to clean them.