Bridal Creeper

Asparagus asparagoides (L.) Wight

Synonyms - Myrsiphyllum asparagoides (L.) Willd., Asparagus medeoloides, Dracaena medeoloides, Medeola asparagoides.

Family: Asparagaceae (or Liliaceae)

Names:

Asparagus is the ancient Greek name for the Asparagus vegetable.
Asparagoides is from the Greco-Latin name for asparagus and oides that means 'like'. Thus it is like asparagus.
Myrsiphyllum is from Myrtus communis, the Myrtle, and phyllon meaning leaf and refers to the cladodes or 'leaves' because the foliage of Myrtle and Bridal Creeper is similar.
Bridal creeper refers to the use of this plant for floral arrangements at weddings and, in particular, the greenery base for bridal bouquets following the tradition of using myrtle for this purpose.

Other Names:

Smilax Asparagus
Smilax
American Smilax

Summary:

Bridal Creeper is a perennial climber with annually renewed, slender but tough, spineless stems sprawling aggressively for several metres and climbing quite high into trees. It has shiny egg-shaped to heart-shaped 'leaves' (cladodes) 10 to 70 mm long and 4-30 mm wide. The sweetly scented flowers are white and bisexual, with petals that are 5 mm long. Each flower has 6 stamens with orange to red anthers. The berries are globular, red to purple when ripe and 6-10 mm across. The extensive rootstock has a mass of finger like tubers connected by rhizomes. It flowers in spring, dies back over summer and then shoots away in autumn. The bright berries are quickly spread by birds and readily establish under trees and roosts.
Native to southern Africa, Bridal Creeper is an extremely invasive environmental weed. A variant with somewhat larger 'leaves' which have a waxy appearance and larger tubers forming a rosette has been found in South Australia and Victoria. This variant is resistant to the rust fungus which has provided considerable control of the common variety in most areas. Plants that are rust free should be properly identified.

Description:

Cotyledons:

One.

Leaves:

Reduced to scales without spines. It has "cladodes" which look like leaves but actually are flattened, leafless branches that arise from the axil of the main stem and the scale like true leaf.
Cladodes (Leaf like structures) - Glossy green with a waxy feel, alternate, single, 10-70 mm long x 4-30 mm wide, egg shaped, thin, hairless, tapering to an acute tip, many lengthwise veins, base square to indented. Several cladodes are alternately attached to fine stalks that are attached to the main stem.

Stems:

Many, wiry, slender, green, initially erect then climbing, twining and branching. 1000-6000 mm long x 1-2 mm diameter. Slender but woody. Bent at each node.

Flower head:

Single or twin. Arising from the cladode axil.

Flowers:

Greenish white, 6 petalled, sweetly scented, small (10 mm diameter) and bisexual carried on drooping 5-6 mm long stalks that are jointed near the top.
Ovary - Superior. 4-9 ovules in 3 cells. Simple style, nearly as long as perianth. 3 lobed stigma.
Perianth - Bell shaped. 6 mm long x 8-9 mm diameter. 6 widely spreading segments (tepals).
Stamens - 6. Filaments with 2 basal spurs.
Anthers - Open inwards with slits.

Fruit:

Globular, sticky succulent berry. 7-10 mm diameter. Initially green turning dark red with maturity. Usually has 1-9 seeds. Sticky flesh when the skin is broken.

Seeds:

Black. Shiny. Egg shaped to globular, 3-4 mm diameter.

Roots:

A short, thick, cylindrical, branching rhizome surrounded by many fusiform (like two cones placed base to base) tubers with white flesh all within the top 200 mm of soil. The tubers are 25-40 mm long x 8-20 mm diameter. Many fibrous roots anchor the rhizome and tubers. It will reshoot from the rhizome but not the tubers (unless there is a bit of rhizome attached). A near solid mat of tubers forms just below the soil surface. Around 90% of the plants biomass may be in the tubers and roots.

Key Characters:

Biology:

Life cycle:

Annual stems with perennial tubers.
Mediterranean areas;
Seed germinate in autumn and early winter then grow slowly while the root system forms its first tubers around 9 weeks after emergence. Stems grow quickly over winter and flowering may start in August or early spring. Most plants will not flower until they are several years old and have built up a substantial root system. Growth stops as temperatures rise and the plant dies from the top down. By November the plants become dormant and survive the summer on underground tubers. These rhizome sprout in February or March regardless of rainfall events and rapidly grow using the reserves of the tubers to produce long climbing stems that flower from August to September. Green berries are typically produced in October ripening to red in November. As the berries ripen, the leaves turn yellow and start to fall and the stems dry out. The ripe fruit may remain on the plant for some months as the stems die back with the onset of summer.
Summer rainfall areas;
Stems grow actively in summer and the top growth, of most plants, dies off during winter.
Year round rainfall areas;
Stems are produced through out the year.

Physiology:

Tolerates full shade to full sun and grows best in partly shaded areas.
Tolerates drought and saline soils.

Reproduction:

By seed and rhizomes.
Self pollinates.

Flowering times:

August to September, but as early as mid July in the South West of WA.
August to September in SE Australia.

Seed Biology and Germination:

Germination is rapid, giving it a competitive advantage over slower germinating native species.
90% of seed germinates at temperatures of 10-23 degrees C.
50-60% of seeds buried 20-50 mm germinated within 2 years, while only 20% of surface seeds germinated and these generally required a covering of litter. 32% of surface seeds and no buried seeds were viable 2 years after maturity (Raymond, 1996)
Seed will germinate after at least 3 years of storage but carryover of seed from year to year in the field is minimal with little seed lasting more than 2 seasons.
1000 berries/m2 have been recorded.

Vegetative Propagules:

Produces a mass of tubers. Tubers provide nutrient for very rapid stem growth at the beginning of the season which helps smother surrounding vegetation.

Hybrids:

Allelopathy:

Ecology, Population Dynamics and Dispersal:

Reproduces by both seeds and tubers.
Most of the seed falls close to the parent plant. However birds are a major contributors to its dispersal. Silvereyes, wattlebirds, crows, parrots, blackbird, emus, gulls, honeyeaters, starlings and swamphen have been seen feeding on fruits (Cooke and Robertson, 1990; Raymond, 1994; Stansbury, 1996). Seed passes through the bird unharmed (in 6 to 29 minutes for Silvereyes and less for other species) or simply sticks to it beak when it is eating the fruit. Most new infestations can be attributed to dispersal by birds. Spread rates due to birds is estimated to be 100's to 1000's m/yr. Rabbits also spread it in their droppings (Graham and Mitchell, 1996). Water borne seed dispersal also occurs along creeks with dense germinations occurring at the high water mark where seed is deposited with debris (Graham and Mitchell, 1996).
Local spread can also occur from seed in mud on machinery or sticking to animals and clothing. Rhizomes are spread by road making machinery along roadsides. Seed is spread in water flows and both seed and rhizomes are spread in dumped garden refuse.
It will tolerate heavy shade and can invade relatively undisturbed bushland as well as open woodland areas. It is generally not found in totally cleared areas.
After invasion, it smothers most species that grow less than 2 metres tall.
Over 87% of the plant biomass is in the roots and tubers. Under ground biomass of over 9 tonnes/ha has been measured. Most of this is viable tuber (Raymond, 1996).
Bees visit flowers but self pollination appears to be the main form of fertilisation. 4-20% of buds set fruit and average densities range from 14 to 1047/m2 (Raymond, 1996).
Fruits ripen from November to January. Over the next 7-13 weeks 58% to 78% of the fruit were removed mainly by birds. Fruits shrivel by February and some may remain on the stems for over 12 months whilst the rest break down to release their seeds (Raymond, 1996).
Root reserves are at a minimum at the beginning of growth in autumn??
Matching climates where Bridal Creeper grows in South Africa with those in Australia shows that this weed has not reached its climatic limits and there is a great potential for spread. Most of the WA agricultural area, the southern portions of SA and Victoria, and eastern Tasmania are likely to be invaded (Pheloung and Scott, 1996). Currently it is associated with older settlements, creek lines and roadsides.
It doesn't tolerate salt or exposure to high winds and generally doesn't occur close to the sea shore unless it is in sheltered situations under trees.
Grazing by tammars and quokkas (mid size marsupials) held infestations to 1.8% compared to 78.9% where grazing was excluded (Bell et al, 1987).
Plants occasionally don't flower for some years and usually only form berries on vertical stems. Little fruit or seed is set on horizontal stems sprawling across the ground.

Origin and History:

Tropical and Southern Africa.
It is listed in "The Gardeners Dictionary" as a garden plant in England in 1754 and in McArthur's nursery catalogue of NSW in 1857 (Mulvaney, 1991). And was probably introduced as an ornamental garden plant around the 1850's. It was present in SA in 1871 and had become naturalised in Victoria by 1886. It was in WA nursery catalogues in 1905 and first recorded in WA in 1956 and naturalised in 1960 (Scott and Kleinjan, 1991). By 1996, it had spread over most of Victoria and the south east of SA with scattered infestations in Eyre peninsula and WA. It is rapidly spreading in the south west of WA and along the south coast to the Nullarbor. It is probably spreading at a rate of around 5 Km/year in WA currently. Prior to the war it was a popular garden plant, but is rarely seen in nurseries today.

Distribution:

NSW, SA, TAS, VIC, WA.
Norfolk and Lord Howe Islands.

Courtesy Australia's Virtual Herbarium.

Habitats:

Climate:

Warm temperate, Mediterranean and tropical climates.

Soil:

Prefers well drained, light textured, fertile soils.
Found on sand, sandy loam, sandy limestone, sandy clay soils, limestone formations, sandy coastal dunes and most other soils.
Rare on heavy grey clay and laterite soils

Plant Associations:

Found along creeks.
Common in Eucalyptus and Banksia woodlands.
Coastal heath, wet sclerophyll forests, dry sclerophyll forests, heathlands, woodlands, mallee scrubland, grassy woodlands, riparian vegetation, rocky outcrop vegetation.

Significance:

Beneficial:

Ornamental.

Detrimental:

Weed of bushland, roadsides, creek lines and gardens.
Weed of orchards and citrus groves where it smothers trees and interferes with harvest.
Competes strongly with native bush and is highly invasive forming dense mats that exclude most other species and prevent regeneration of overstorey species.
Listed as a "Weed of National Significance" and a "Garden Thug".

Toxicity:

Not recorded as toxic.

Legislation:

Noxious weed of NSW, QLD, SA, TAS, VIC and WA.

Management and Control:

It does not persist under grazing.
Introduce Bridal Creeper Rust and Leaf Hoppers as soon as possible. Leaf Hopper and Rust may be transferred from infected areas by collecting a bag full of infested and infected green stems and leaves, sealing it so the leaf hoppers don't escape and then transferring it to the infestation as quickly as possible and rubbing it into the Bridal Creeper greenery.
Manual control is very difficult on established infestations but seedlings and juveniles can be pulled successfully if the ground in loosened to ensure the rhizome is removed with the plants. Burn all seed and rhizome fragments.
The following methods have been used by environmental groups:
1) In winter to early spring, apply 1-2 g metsulfuron (600g/kg) per ha plus 25 mL Pulse® Penetrant per 10 L of spray mix with a mister. This can be used as an overall spray in bushland situations and rarely causes significant damage to native species. Try a small area on your set of species to determine if there are sensitive species present. For spot spraying mix 0.1 g metsulfuron (600g/kg) plus 250 mL Pulse® Penetrant in 100 L water and spray foliage until just wet. Results may not be seen until the following season.
2) Slash or Whipper Snip the stems regularly before they form buds. This may take several years to reduce root reserves and achieve control.
3) Dig up, crush and burn the tubers and root system.
4) Manually apply a mix of 1 part glyphosate in 3 parts water to leaves and stems with a sponge glove or paint brush taking care to avoid companion species.
Around 90% control has been achieved with metsulfuron plus glyphosate mixtures (Weidenbach, 1996). In WA a mix of 1 part glyphosate in 50 parts water plus a marker dye is used on heavy infestations and is considered to be less deleterious to bushland than glyphosate plus chlorsulfuron mixtures (Graham and Mitchell, 1996).
Glyphosate, metsulfuron, glyphosate/metsulfuron, triclopyr/picloram, 2,4-D/picloram, chlorsulfuron, thifensulfuron/metsulfuron, tribenuron, ametryn, ametryn/glyphosate, chlorimuron, bromoxynil/MCPA and amitrole have provided high levels of control. Fluroxypyr, diflufenican/MCPA, glufosinate, MCPA, 2,2 DPA, imazethapyr, clethodim, fluazifop, 2,4-d/glyphosate and asulam were ineffective (Pritchard, 1991; Dixon, 1996).
Bromacil and glyphosate provided better control than Amitrole and 2,2 DPA in citrus orchards (Schrank, 1982).
The best time to apply herbicides is just before flowering at maximum vegetative growth in August to October (Graham and Mitchell, 1996).
Fire may also be a useful tool. After burning, bridal creeper is often the first plant to emerge, thus allowing the use of non selective herbicides and assisting access to infestations (Graham and Mitchell, 1996; France, 1996). Intense fires appear to kill the tubers (Carr, 1996).
Tuber mats can be scalped with earth moving equipment in open situations.
Large infestations are targeted for control because these produce the most seed for transport by birds (Graham and Mitchell, 1996). Carr (1996) opts for the alternate strategy of controlling peripheral light infestations first.

Eradication strategies:

Eradication is only likely to be successful if the biocontrol agents reduce the seed set and consequently the spread by birds in the area.
If possible, open areas up for grazing.
Manual control is very difficult. Introduce and encourage biocontrol agents especially the Bridal Creeper rust if it is not obvious by late winter (collect leaves with rust pustules from an infected site and rub them into the 'clean' Bridal Creeper as soon as possible). It is probably worthwhile introducing Bridal Creeper Leaf Hopper as well.

Very low rates of 2 g/ha metsulfuron(600g/kg) plus Pulse® or 0.02 g metsulfuron plus 25 mL Pulse® per 10 L water provides good suppression and may be applied with a mister or hand spray in winter, before flowering, with little damage to the native bush. No effect is seen until the following season when only a few stems emerge. Retreat or manually remove these stems and burn the tubers and the root system.
Applying a mix of 1 L glyphosate(450g/L) plus 2 L water to leaves and stems with a sponge glove or brush, taking care to avoid other species, is slower but may be more selective.
Repeat herbicide treatments for 3 years or until the plant disappears.
Grazing or persistent removal of the tops for several years exhausts the tubers. Concentrate on reducing the vertical growth because this is where most seed is set. Mulching encourages seed to germinate. Intense fire can kill some tubers and clear the area to allow spraying before other species germinate or reshoot.
Prevent reinfestation by birds by treating all areas on a district basis.
Replant shrub species.
Burial is not usually effective.

Herbicide resistance:

None reported.

Biological Control:

A Bridal Creeper Rust fungus was released in 2001, has established, and is having a significant impact. In WA, this rust is the most promising biocontrol agent ever introduced. If it isn't present in your area, then transfer it immediately. The rust reduces the plants leaf area and causes early leaf fall before flowering and reduces the production of seed. Rust can be easily spread by collecting infected leaves and rubbing them on plants in unaffected areas. The rust also spreads rapidly by wind dispersal. It has generally been more effective in the higher (>450 mm) rainfall areas.
Bio control is required to reduce the spread of seed by birds before other methods of control have a chance of long term success. Various agents have been investigated with a wasp, moth larva, rust and thrip potentially useful agents (Edwards, 1996).
The Bridal Creeper Leaf Hopper was introduced by CSIRO in 1996 and released in Australia in 1999. This insect weakens Bridal Creeper by sucking sap and causes a distinctive silvering pattern on the leaves.
Other agents under investigation include a leaf beetle. The combination of several biocontrol agents plus chemical and mechanical control can reduce the impact of this weed.

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). P30. Photo.

Black, J.M. (1965). Flora of South Australia. (Government Printer, Adelaide, South Australia). P339. Diagram.

Blood, K. (2001). Environmental weeds: a field guide for SE Australia. (CH Jerram & Associates, Australia). P98-99. Photos.

Bell, D.T., Moredoundt, J.C. and Loneragan, W.A. (1987). Grazing pressure by tammar (Macropus eugenii Desm.) on the vegetation of Garden Island, Western Australia, and its potential impact on food reserves of a controlled burning regime. Journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia 69:89-94.

Carr, Ben, (1996). Bridal Creeper at Woodman Point - its current status and recommended control strategies. Plant Protection Quarterly, 11(2):67-69.

Cooke, D.A. and Robertson, M. (1990). Bridal creeper (Myrsiphyllum asparagoides) in South Australia. Proceedings of the 9th Australian Weeds Conference, Adelaide, August 6-10 1990, Ed. J.W. Heap, pp113-5 (Crop Science Society of South Australia).

Cunningham, G.M., Mulham, W.E., Milthorpe, P.L. and Leigh, J.H. (1992). Plants of Western New South Wales. (Inkata Press, Melbourne). P182.

Dixon, I.R. (1996). Control of Bridal Creeper (Asparagus asparagoides) and the distribution of Asparagus declinatus in Kings Park bushland, 1991-1995. Plant Protection Quarterly, 11(2):61-63.

Edwards, Penelope B. (1996). Biological control of Bridal Creeper (Asparagus asparagoides) - A review of potential agents from South Africa.

France, Rick (1996). Observations and management of bridal creeper at Stokes National Park, Western Australia. Plant Protection Quarterly, 11(2):70.

Graham, M.S. and Mitchell, M.D. (1996). Practical experiences in management for control of Bridal Creeper (Asparagus asparagoides) on nature reserves in southern Western Australia. Plant Protection Quarterly, 11(2):64-66.

Keighery, Greg (1996). Native, naturalised and cultivated Asparagaceae in Western Australia. Plant Protection Quarterly, 11(2): 49-50.

Lazarides, M. and Hince, B. (1993). CSIRO handbook of economic plants of Australia. (CSIRO, Melbourne). #861.1.

Marchant, N.G., Wheeler, J.R., Rye, B.L., Bennett, E.M., Lander, N.S. and Macfarlane, T.D. (1987). Flora of the Perth Region. (Western Australian Herbarium, Department of Agriculture, Western Australia). P736.

Moore, J.H. and Wheeler, J.R. (2008). Southern Weeds and their Control. (Second Edition). Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia. P148-149. Photos.

Muyt, A. (2001). Bush Invaders of South-East Australia: a guide to the identification and control of environmental weeds found in South East Australia. (R.G and F.J. Richardson, Australia). P126-128. Photos.

Mulvaney, M.J. (1991) Far from the garden path: an identikit picture of woody ornamental plants invading south-eastern Australian bushland. Australian National University, 1991. PhD thesis.

Parsons, W.T. and Cuthbertson, E.G. (1992). Noxious weeds of Australia. (Inkata Press, Melbourne). P44-46. Photos.

Pheloung, P.C. and Scott, J.K. (1996). Climate-based prediction of Asparagus asparagoides and A. declinatus distribution in Western Australia. Plant Protection Quarterly, 11(2):51-53.

Pritchard, G.H. (1991) Control of Bridal Creeper with herbicides. Plant Protection Quarterly, 6:126.

Raymond, (1994). The ecology of Bridal Creeper in south-eastern Australia. Plant Protection Quarterly, 11(2):47-.

Robertson, Meg (1982).

Schrank, C. (1982). Pest Plants Control Commission, South Australia, Digest of News and Events. No. 13, 6-7.

Scott, J. K. & Kleinjan, C. A. (1991). Bridal creeper (Myrsiphyllum asparagoides) in Australia and developments towards its biological control. Plant Protection Quarterly 6, 116-119.

Stansbury, C. (1996). Observations of birds feeding on Bridal Creeper (Asparagus asparagoides) fruits within Yanchep National Park, Western Australia. Plant Protection Quarterly, 11(2):59-60.

Weidenbach, M. (1996). Bridal Creeper - A South Australian perspective. Plant Protection Quarterly, 11(2):48.

Acknowledgments:

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