Asparagus

Asparagus officinalis L.

Order: Liliales

Family: Asparagaceae

Names:

Asparagus is the ancient Greek name for the Asparagus vegetable.
Officinalis is medieval Latin meaning belonging to an officina or monastry store room where medicines were kept and is now applied to plants (or other organisms) that had an established herbal, medical, culinary or other use.
Asparagus, the common name, is from the generic name.

Other Names:

Summary:

A dark green, fine leaved bushy herb to 2000 mm round.

Description:

Cotyledons:

Two.

First leaves:

Leaves:

Leaves are dark green extensions of the stem called cladodes and are in groups of 3-6. They are fine and feather like.
Stipules - None.
Petiole - is the leaf like structure called the cladode. Hairless.
Blade - True leaves are scale like.
Blade of cladode - Tip pointed. Sides straight and parallel. Base tapered. Hairless.

Stems:

Green, erect, to 2000 mm long, smooth, branching, solid, round, many from the base, hairless

Flower head:

Flowers borne singly or in pairs on drooping stalks (peduncles) that are jointed near the middle. Axillary.

Flowers:

Greenish white, small, bell shaped
Male and female flowers occur on different plants.
Ovary -
Calyx -
Perianth -
Sepals -
Petals - 5 lobes.
Stamens -
Anthers -

Fruit:

Red berry, 6-9 mm diameter.

Seeds:

Roots:

Thick but no tubers.

Key Characters:

Biology:

Life cycle:

Perennial. Seed is sown in beds in spring and crowns transplanted into trenches in the next winter. It starts producing in the second season and comes into full production in the fifth season. Grows over winter, flowers in spring, sets fruit in summer then dies back. Re shoots from rhizomes in the following autumn. It is normally harvested by hand with a long handled knife in late spring and early summer.

Physiology:

Frost tolerant but sensitive to drought.
Requires a definite cold season to stop growth and revitalise crowns.

Reproduction:

By seed and crowns.

Flowering times:

Summer in SA.
Spring in WA.

Seed Biology and Germination:

Vegetative Propagules:

Plants may be divided.

Hybrids:

2 types - green and white.

Allelopathy:

Population Dynamics and Dispersal:

Spread by seed or transplanting divided plants.

Origin and History:

Europe. North Africa. Western Asia.

Distribution:

ACT, NSW, QLD, SA, TAS, VIC, WA.

Courtesy Australia's Virtual Herbarium.

Habitats:

Prefers open sunny areas.

Climate:

Temperate. Mediterranean.

Soil:

Grows on loams, clays and sands with a pH of 6-6.8.
Prefers deep, well drained, moist soils high in organic matter.

Plant Associations:

Significance:

Beneficial:

Cultivated vegetable.
Fodder.

Detrimental:

Weed of roadsides, river banks and disturbed areas.

Toxicity:

Not recorded as toxic.

Legislation:

None.

Management and Control:

Thresholds:

Eradication strategies:

Herbicide resistance:

Biological Control:

Diseases include Fusarium crown rot, Phytophthora spear rot and Rust.

Related plants:

See A key for the weedy Asparagus species
Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) is a cultivated vegetable.
Asparagus fern (Asparagus scandens = Myrsiphyllum scandens) has perennial stems that don't die back in summer and has single seeded berries that are orange-red when ripe. There are separate male and female plants.
Baby Smilax or Myrtifolius (Asparagus asparagoides) is a compact dwarf form of Bridal Creeper and sold in nurseries.
Bridal Creeper (Asparagus asparagoides) = Myrsiphyllum asparagoides is an aggressive climber with leaf like phyllodes and red to purple berries.
Bridal veil (Asparagus declinatus = Myrsiphyllum declinatum = Asparagus crispus) has egg shaped berries that are light green ripening to translucent white.
Cutleaf Self-heal (Protasparagus laciniata)
Climbing Asparagus Fern (Asparagus plumosus = Protasparagus plumosus) has perennial shoots with recurved spines.
Ground Asparagus (Asparagus aethiopicus) has thorny stems with creamy white to pink flowers.
Native Asparagus Fern (Protasparagus racemosus)
Self-heal (Protasparagus vulgaris)
Asparagus africanus = Protasparagus africanus is similar to Asparagus plumosus but differs in having orange rather than black mature fruits.
The Asparagaceae family has recently been separated from the Liliaceae family. Asparagaceae is currently considered to have one large variable genus Asparagus with 2 sub genera Asparagus and Myrsiphyllum (Keighery, 1996).

Asparagus species of WA
Current nameStatusOld names
Asparagus aethiopicus L.
Ground Asparagus
AlienProtasparagus aethiopicusAsparagus densiflorus (misapplied)
Asparagus asparagoides (L.)Druce
Bridal Creeper
AlienMyrsiphyllum asparagoides 
Asparagus declinatus L.
Bridal Veil
AlienMyrsiphyllum declinatumAsparagus crispus
Asparagus officinalis L.
Asparagus
Alien
Vegetable
Asparagus plumosus Baker
Climbing Asparagus Fern
AlienProtasparagus plumosus
Asparagus racemosus Willd.Native to Kimberly area in WA.Protasparagus racemosus
Asparagus scandens Thunb.
Asparagus Fern
AlienMyrsiphyllum scandens
Asparagus virgatusAlien.
Not in WA.
Protasparagus virgatus
Asparagus africanusAlien.
Not in WA.
Protasparagus africanus

Plants of similar appearance:

Apple-berries (Billardiera species) differ with their more leathery leaves, flowers with 5 sepals and 5 petals and fruits which are hard rather than succulent and usually more or less cylindric in shape.
Lignums (Muehlenbeckia species) differ in having tiny flowers in clusters, each flower with 5 petals.
Slender Clematis (Clematis linearifolia) differs in having opposite leaves which are divided into 3 stalked leaflets and fruitlets in a head (each fruitlet with a long feathery awn).
Small-leaved Clematis (Clematis microphylla)
Native Smilax species
Scrambling Lily (Geitonoplesium cymosum) is a native.
Selliera radicans is not a climber but creeps along the ground with roots at each node. It also has stalked leaves and fan-shaped flowers. It occurs in saline, estuarine areas of the Warren region.
Wombat Berry (Eustrephus latifolius)

References:

Auld, B.A. and Medd R.W. (1992). Weeds. An illustrated botanical guide to the weeds of Australia. (Inkata Press, Melbourne). P31. Photo.

Black, J.M. (1978). Flora of South Australia. (Government Printer, Adelaide, South Australia). P339.

Bodkin, F. (1986). Encyclopaedia Botanica. (Angus and Robertson, Australia). P108.

Cunningham, G.M., Mulham, W.E., Milthorpe, P.L. and Leigh, J.H. (1992). Plants of Western New South Wales. (Inkata Press, Melbourne). P181.

Hussey, B.M.J., Keighery, G.J., Cousens, R.D., Dodd, J. and Lloyd, S.G. (1997). Western Weeds. A guide to the weeds of Western Australia. (Plant Protection Society of Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia). P20. Photo.

Lazarides, M. and Hince, B. (1993). CSIRO handbook of economic plants of Australia. (CSIRO, Melbourne). #137.2.

Reid, R.L. (1990) The Manual of Australian Agriculture. (Butterworths, Sydney). P142.

Acknowledgments:

Collated by HerbiGuide. Phone 08 98444064 or www.herbiguide.com.au for more information.