Climbing Asparagus Fern
Asparagus plumosus Baker
Synonyms – Protasparagus plumosus, Asparagus setaceous
Family: Asparagaceae (was Liliaceae)Names:
Asparagus is the ancient Greek name for the Asparagus vegetable.
Plumosus is Latin for feathered and refers to the feather like form of the “leaves”.
Other Names:Ferny Asparagus refers to the feather or fern like form of the “leaves”.
Summary:Climbing Asparagus Fern is a perennial climber with annually renewed, spiny, tough, wiry stems, up to 5 m long and reaching high into trees. Some stems and foliage remain green all year. The rootstock is fibrous and lacks tubers. Recurved spines are present along the stems and may be up to 2 cm long. There are 8-15, thread like ‘leaves’ per axil that are narrow and flattened to circular in cross-section and 2-10 mm long x 0.5 mm wide. The flowers occur singly or in pairs at the ends of branchlets. are bisexual, green or cream to white with petals 3-7 mm long. The fleshy berries are globular, 4-5 mm across, at first green but ripening to black at maturity.
Native to southern Africa, it is a weed of roadsides and woodlands. It flowers from spring to autumn. It is often confused with Asparagus africanus which differs in having orange mature fruits.
Leaves: True leaves are tiny and scale like at the base of leaf like structures called cladodes.
"Cladodes" look like leaves but actually are flattened, leafless branches that arise from the axil of the branchlet and the scale-like true leaf.
Cladodes (Leaf like structures) – 8-15 in a single plane in each leaf axil and circular in cross section. 4-7 mm long x 0.5 mm wide. Cladode sets alternate up the stem. Tip abruptly pointed. Sides parallel. Base tapering. Almost hairless.
Stems: Many, greenish to reddish brown, wiry, slender, climbing and twining, up to 5 m long with recurved spines that are usually less than 5 mm long. Smooth or grooved. Hairless.
Many branched. Final branches and cladodes are in a single plane.
Usually spined with downward pointing spines.
Flower head:Single or paired on stalks at the ends of lateral branches. Flower stalks 1-2.5 mm long and jointed near the base.
Flowers:White to green with 6 petals (tepals), somewhat bell shaped and 5-7 mm diameter.
Ovary – Superior. 3 cells. Simple style.
Perianth - 6 spreading segments (tepals), 3-4 mm long.
Stamens - 6.
Anthers – Yellow. Open inwards with slits.
Fruit:Globose, somewhat flattened, sticky, succulent berry, 4-5 mm diameter. Initially green turning black when ripe and may remain on the plant. 1 seed per berry.
Seeds:Black, almost globular, 2.5-3.5 mm diameter.
Roots:Long slender fibrous rhizome with a mass of fibrous non tuberous roots.
Key Characters:Final branches and cladodes in one plane.
Cladodes in sets of 8-15, ± terete, c 0.5 mm diameter, <10 mm long.
Flowers and fruit terminal on lateral branchlets.
Adapted from Harden, Moore
Seed germinate mainly in autumn and spring when the soil is moist. The seedling grows quickly forming a cluster of stems on a crown that produces the long rhizome and a dense mass of adventitious roots. The stems climb anything nearby. It may not flower in the its first season. Flowering usually occurs in spring and may continue through to April. In mature plants several new shoots form along the rhizome in spring to produce new crowns with a cluster of stems on a short rootstock that produces new rhizomes and a mass of fibrous roots. The ripe fruit may remain on the plant for some time. The stems are perennial. After fire new shoots arise from the old crowns, rootstocks and rhizomes.
Physiology:Tolerates full shade to full sun and grows best in partly shaded areas.
Tolerates drought and fire.
Reproduction:By seed and rhizomes and stem fragments.
Flowering times:April in Perth.
Spring and Summer in NSW with fruit until June.
Seed Biology and Germination:There appears to be little dormant seed.
Vegetative Propagules:Rhizomes, crowns, rootstocks and stem fragments.
Ecology, Population Dynamics and Dispersal:
Reproduces by both seeds and rhizomes.
The initial spread was mainly due to intentional planting in gardens. This was followed by spread due to the dumping of garden refuse containing the crowns and rhizomes together with seed.
In undisturbed situations, most of the seed falls close to the parent plant. Birds, rabbits and other animals may also spread it in their droppings but this varies greatly between regions. On the south coast of WA there is little evidence of this occurring. Water borne seed dispersal also occurs along creeks with dense germinations occurring at the high water mark where seed is deposited with debris. Once established the size of the infestation increases slowly with seedling establishment at the perimeter of the clump and extension of the rhizome
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 or by cultivating machinery. Seed is spread in water flows and both seed and rhizomes are spread in dumped garden refuse.
It will tolerate moderate 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.
Green fruit will ripen on the vine.
Most spread is still due to dumping of garden refuse, earthworks and intentional planting.
Origin and History:Native to Southern Africa.
An infestation at Bunbury has been eradicated.
Distribution:QLD, NSW, SA, WA (VIC).
Swan Coastal Plain region of WA.
Courtesy Australia’s Virtual Herbarium.
Habitats:Prefers shaded situations or anywhere there is support for the climbing stems.
Open woodlands. Steep slopes.
Climate:Cool temperate, Mediterranean, subhumid tropical, subtropical.
Soil:Prefers fertile well drained soils.
Calcarenite soils, grey sands, acid sand over limestone.
Plant Associations:Eucalyptus woodlands.
Ornamental. Medicinal herb.
Detrimental:Weed of roadsides and gardens.
Invasive forming dense mats that exclude most other species and prevent regeneration of overstorey species.
Once established it is a serious bushland weed and difficult to control.
Toxicity:Not recorded as toxic.
Legislation:A declared weed on Lord Howe Island and in parts of NSW.
Management and Control:It does not persist under grazing.
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, rhizome fragments and stem 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) Dig up, crush and burn the stems, crown and root system.
3) 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. 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).
Spraying the basal 0.5-1 metre of the stems with stem with neat dicamba can provide good control and careful application can reduce off target damage to acceptable levels.
Glyphosate, metsulfuron, glyphosate/metsulfuron, triclopyr/picloram, 2,4-D/picloram, dicamba, chlorsulfuron, bromacil, thifensulfuron/metsulfuron, tribenuron, ametryn, ametryn/glyphosate, chlorimuron, bromoxynil/MCPA and amitrole are expected to give high levels of control. Fluroxypyr, diflufenican/MCPA, glufosinate, MCPA, 2,2 DPA, imazethapyr, clethodim, fluazifop, 2,4-d/glyphosate, amitrole and asulam are expected to be ineffective.
The best time to apply herbicides is just before flowering at maximum vegetative growth in August to October.
Fire may also be a useful tool but rarely provides control. After burning, it is often the first plant to emerge, thus allowing the use of non selective herbicides and assisting access to infestations. Fire without follow up control is likely to make the infestation worse.
Scalping is not generally effective because of the re establishment of the plant from fragments.
Eradication strategies:Manual control is unpleasant due to the spiny nature of the stems.
If possible, open areas up for grazing.
Spray until just wet with a mix 100 mL glyphosate(450g/L) plus 1 g metsulfuron(600g/L) in 10 L water when actively growing.
Repeat for 3 years or until the plant disappears.
Grazing or persistent removal of the tops for several years exhausts the root system.
Applying a mix of 1 L glyphosate(450g/L) plus 2 L water to leaves and stems with a brush or small sprayer, taking care to avoid other species, is slower but may be more selective.
Intense fire can kill the top growth but it reshoots soon afterwards. These shoots can often be sprayed before other species germinate or reshoot.
Prevent reinfestation by birds by treating all areas on a district basis.
Replant shrub species.
Herbicide resistance:None reported.
Biological Control:Biocontrol agents introduced for Bridal Creeper control have little effect on this species.
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 name||Status||Old names|| |
|Asparagus aethiopicus L.|
|Alien||Protasparagus aethiopicus||Asparagus densiflorus (misapplied)|
|Asparagus asparagoides (L.)Druce|
|Alien||Myrsiphyllum asparagoides|| |
|Asparagus declinatus L.|
|Alien||Myrsiphyllum declinatum||Asparagus crispus|
|Asparagus officinalis L. |
| || |
|Asparagus plumosus Baker|
Climbing Asparagus Fern
|Alien||Protasparagus plumosus|| |
|Asparagus racemosus Willd.||Native to Kimberly area in WA.||Protasparagus racemosus|| |
|Asparagus scandens Thunb.|
|Alien||Myrsiphyllum scandens|| |
Not in WA.
|Protasparagus virgatus|| |
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:Bodkin, F. (1986). Encyclopaedia Botanica. (Angus and Robertson, Australia).
Everist, S.L. (1974). Poisonous Plants of Australia. (Angus and Robertson, Sydney).
Harden, Gwen J. (1991). Flora of NSW. (Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney). Volume 4. P46. Diagram.
Hussey, B.M.J., Keighery, G.J., Cousens, R.D., Dodd, J. and Lloyd, S.G. (2007). Western Weeds. A guide to the weeds of Western Australia. (Second Edition). Plant Protection Society of Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia. P12.
Lazarides, M. and Cowley, K. and Hohnen, P. (1997). CSIRO handbook of Australian Weeds. (CSIRO, Melbourne). #820.4.
Moore, J.H. and Wheeler, J.R. (2008). Southern Weeds and their Control. (Second Edition). Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia. P152-153. Photos.
Parsons, W.T. and Cuthbertson, E.G. (1992) Noxious weeds of Australia. (Inkata Press, Melbourne). P49. Photos.
Paczkowska, G. and Chapman, A. (2000). The Western Australia flora: a descriptive catalogue. (Wildflower Society of Western Australia (Inc), the Western Australian Herbarium, CALM and the Botanic Gardens & Parks Authority). P37.
Collated by HerbiGuide. Phone 08 98444064 or www.herbiguide.com.au for more information.