Common asparagus fern is not a fern, but rather a ferny-looking member of the lily family - a large and diverse clan of odd, beautiful and useful species. It has feathery, fernlike evergreen foliage that actually consists of clusters of wiry bright green stems arranged in flat leaflike sprays. (The true leaves are reduced to small, inconspicuous, but razor-sharp, spines on the stems.) The plant is bushy, but the elongating stems, with their recurved spines, can clamber and sprawl up to 10'. Tiny white flowers are produced in spring, followed by purplish black berries.
The cultivar, 'Cupressoides' has foliage reminiscent of baldcypress; 'Nanus' is a dwarf form; 'Pyramidalis' has a rigid upright habit.
Common asparagus fern is native to moist forests in South Africa. It is widely cultivated for its fine-textured foliage, and has escaped cultivation and become a rather common weed in disturbed areas of south-central Florida. The related emerald asparagus fern (P. densiflorus) is a serious pest in south Florida, listed by the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council as a species that is invading and disrupting native plant communities. It seems that P. setaceus has the potential to become a problem weed as well.
Asparagus fern is very easy to grow. It tolerates wide ranges of light, temperature and watering frequency. Cut a few of the longest stems to the ground each spring to encourage new growth.
Light: Partial shade is best. Foliage turns yellow in dense shade. Moisture: Asparagus fern can tolerate considerable periods without water, but does best with regular watering. Allow the soil to dry out between waterings.
Hardiness: USDA Zones 9 - 12. Asparagus fern is killed to the ground by light freezes in Zone 8, but usually sprouts back from the roots in spring. Propagation: Propagate asparagus fern from seeds or by division of the root mass in spring.
The flat fern-like branches are used in floral displays and are almost universally a part of commercial florists' arrangements. A gentleman's boutonniere or a lady's red rose would be naked without a feathery spray of asparagus fern. Asparagus fern's attractive foliage and fine, lacy texture make it a natural for hanging basket plantings. Outdoors in warm climates asparagus fern may spread and become difficult to control.
Common asparagus fern and the closely related emerald fern (P. densiflorus 'Sprengeri') and foxtail fern (P. densiflorus 'Myersii') were formerly classified in the genus, Asparagus, along with the edible garden asparagus (A. officinalis). Some experts still keep them all in the same genus, but Asparagus has rhizomes, and Protasparagus does not.
Common asparagus fern has small but sharp thorns on the stems.
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Tallahassee, Florida USA