Climbing Asparagus Fern

Asparagus scandens

Synonyms - Myrsiphyllum scandens

Family: - Asparagaceae or Liliaceae.

Names:

Asparagus is the Latin name for the Asparagus vegetable.
Scandens is Latin for climbing referring to its growth habit.
Myrsiphyllum is from Myrtus communis, the Myrtle, and phyllon meaning leaf and refers to the cladodes or 'leaves' of some species resemble the foliage of Myrtle.

Other Names:

Climbing Asparagus
Myrsiphyllum
Snakefeather (NZ)

Summary:

Climbing Asparagus Fern is a perennial climber with a rootstock having many tubers. There are no spines on the slender, wiry stems that are up to 3 m long. There are 1-3 'leaves' per axil that are narrowly elliptic, 5-15 mm long by 0.5-1.5 mm wide and usually 1 in each cluster is much longer than the others. The flowers are unisexual with male and female flowers on separate plants. They are white to pinkish with petals 3-4 mm long. The berries are egg-shaped, orange to red when ripe and 5-7 mm across.
Native to southern Africa, it is an invasive weed of bushland, roadsides and creek lines that flowers from August to October.

Description:

Cotyledons:

One.

Leaves:

The leaves are reduced to bracts-like structures without spines at the base of the cladodes.
"Cladodes" look like leaves but actually are flattened, leafless branches that arise from the axil of the main stem and the bract-like true leaf.
Cladodes (Leaf like structures) - 3 in a single plane in each leaf axil and of unequal length with one noticeably longer. They are shiny green and usually curved and flattened and 5-15 mm long by 0.5-1.5 mm wide with 1 vein. Cladode sets alternate up the stem. Tip pointed. Sides parallel. Base tapering. Hairless.
Stipules - none

Stems:

Many, wiry, slender, green, initially erect then climbing, twining and branching. Up to 3000 mm long by 1-2 mm diameter.
Usually annual and die off over summer but may persist in some locations.

Flower head:

1-3 in each axil. Flower stalks (pedicels) 6-10 mm long and jointed in the lower half.

Flowers:

White to pinkish, small (6-8 mm diameter) with 6 petals (tepals) topped by yellow anthers. Bisexual.
Ovary - Superior. 3 cells. Simple style.
Perianth - 6-8 mm diameter. 6 widely spreading segments (tepals) 3-4 mm long and overlapping at the base.
Stamens - 6.
Anthers - Yellow. Open inwards with slits.

Fruit:

Egg shaped, sticky, succulent berry. 5-7 mm diameter. Initially green turning orange to red when ripe and may remain on the plant until the next flowering season. Each fruit usually has one seed or occasionally two.

Seeds:

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

Roots:

A perennial, short, branching rhizome surrounded by many tubers with white flesh all within the top 200 mm of soil. The tubers are 25-40 mm long by 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).
The tubers are long lived.

Key Characters:

Cladodes in sets of 3.
Cladodes less than 2 mm wide.
Flowers bisexual
Tepals overlapping at the base
Stems often annual.
Adapted from Harden

Biology:

Life cycle:

Mediterranean areas;
Seed germinate in autumn and early winter then grow slowly while the root system forms. Most plants will not flower until they are several years old and have built up a substantial root system. Green berries are produced and these ripen to orange-red. The ripe fruit may remain on the plant for some time. The stems are usually annual and die off over summer.

Physiology:

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

Reproduction:

By seed and rhizomes.

Flowering times:

September in the South West of WA (Florabase).
August to October in SE Australia.
Mainly in winter and early spring and fruits until summer in NSW.
September to December in New Zealand.

Seed Biology and Germination:

Germination rates of the seed are usually high and there appears to be little dormant seed.

Vegetative Propagules:

Rhizome supported by a mass of tubers.

Hybrids:

Allelopathy:

Ecology, Population Dynamics and Dispersal:

Reproduces by both seeds and rhizomes.
Most of the seed falls close to the parent plant. However birds are major contributors to its dispersal. Most new infestations can be attributed to dispersal by birds. Rabbits and other animals may also spread it in their droppings. Water borne seed dispersal also occurs along creeks with dense germinations occurring at the high water mark where seed is deposited with debris.
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.
The tuber mass competes with germinating plants and inhibits water penetration.
Green fruit will ripen on the vine.
It generally prefers moister and shadier sites than Bridal Creeper.

Origin and History:

Native to Southern Africa.

Distribution:

NSW, SA, TAS, VIC, WA.
Jarrah Forest and Warren regions of WA.
Major weed of New Zealand.

Courtesy Australia's Virtual Herbarium.

Habitats:

Climate:

Warm temperate, Mediterranean and tropical climates.

Soil:

Brown loam, clay, grey loamy sand, ironstone gravel, granite.
Flats between dunes, embankments, headlands, hills.
Prefers well drained, light textured, fertile soils.

Plant Associations:

Found along creeks.
Eucalyptus, Banksia and Agonis woodlands.
Coastal heath, wet sclerophyll forests, dry sclerophyll forests, woodlands, riparian vegetation, shaded woodlands, rock walls, hedges, heathland.

Significance:

Beneficial:

Ornamental.

Detrimental:

Weed of bushland, roadsides, creek lines and gardens.
Invasive forming dense mats that exclude most other species and prevent regeneration of overstorey species. Strangles soft barked species.
Serious weed of New Zealand.

Toxicity:

Not recorded as toxic.

Legislation:

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 and rhizome fragments.
The following have been 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 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. 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.
The best time to apply herbicides is probably just before flowering.
Fire may also be a useful tool. After burning, as Asparagus Fern is often the first plant to emerge, thus allowing the use of non selective herbicides and assisting access to infestations.
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. Others opt for the alternate strategy of controlling peripheral light infestations first.
If vines are manually removed they usually need to be burnt or buried because they often carry old fruit and green fruit will ripen on the vine.

Eradication strategies:

Eradication is only likely to be successful if seed set is prevented to stop the spread by birds.
Manual control is difficult because the rhizomes above the tubers must be removed to prevent reshooting. Burial is not usually effective.
Overall spraying with a mixture of 100 mL glyphosate(450g/L) plus 1 g metsulfuron(600g/kg) in 10 L water is effective but will kill most companion plants whose foliage is sprayed. 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 annually or until the plant disappears.
If possible, open areas up for grazing.
Grazing or persistent removal of the tops for several years exhausts the tubers and provides control.
Intense fire can kill some rhizomes 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.

Herbicide resistance:

None reported.

Biological Control:

Biocontrol agents introduced for Bridal Creeper control have little effect on Asparagus fern.

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.
South African Asparagus Fern (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.
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.
South African Asparagus Fern
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
Ferny Asparagus
AlienProtasparagus plumosus 
Asparagus racemosus Willd.Native to Kimberly area in WA.Protasparagus racemosus 
Asparagus scandens Thunb.
Climbing 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:

Blood, K. (2001). Environmental weeds: a field guide for SE Australia. (CH Jerram & Associates, Australia). P100-101. Photos.

Harden, Gwen J. (1991). Flora of NSW. (Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney). Volume 4. P47. 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. P13.

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

Lazarides, M. and Cowley, K. and Hohnen, P. (1997). CSIRO handbook of Australian Weeds. (CSIRO, Melbourne). #683.3

Moore, J.H. and Wheeler, J.R. (2008). Southern Weeds and their Control. (Second Edition). Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia. P154-155. 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). P125.

Roy, B., Popay, I., Champion, P., James, T. and Rahman, A. (1998). An Illustrated Guide to Common Weeds of New Zealand. (New Zealand Plant Protection Society). P49. Photo

Acknowledgments:

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