Monday, May 4, 2009

Asparagus Ferns

Today is my mom's birthday!  I attribute most of my admiration for plants to my mom.  I grew up surrounded by plants and started helping her with watering and plant maintenance at an early age.  I am celebrating her birthday on my blog by profiling one of her favorite plants - the Asparagus Fern.  This is a very common house plant/outdoor summer plant in our area of the country.

You might wonder why this plant is given the common name "Asparagus Fern."  These plants (which are actually not ferns) belong to the Asparagus genus.  The genus also includes Asparagus officinalis, the plant which produces the edible aspargus spears that we all know and love (or tolerate, in my case).  So if you have an Asparagus Fern, believe it or not, your plant is very closely related to the edible asparagus!  You might be able to tell a resemblance in the new fronds of foliage that emerge.  They look very similar to the edible aspargus.

New Asparagus fern (Asparagus densiflorus) frond - photo courtesy flickr user yauda
New frond from an Asparagus fern (Asparagus setaceus) - photo courtesy flickr user yauda
There are over 300 distinct species in the Asparagus genus, two of which are commonly kept as ornamental plants: A. densiflorus (synonym A. sprengeri) and A. plumosus (synonym A. setaceus).  Both of these species use the common name "Asparagus Fern."  A. plumosus is sometimes also labelled "Plumosa Fern" or "Florist's Fern."  The fronds of this plant are airy and soft.  They are sometimes used in floral arrangements.

Plumosa fern (Asparagus ) - photo courtesy flickr user vanillalotus
Plumosa fern (Asparagus setaceus) - photo courtesy flickr user vanilla lotus
The other species (A. densiflorus) has two common varieties that can be found as an ornamental plant.  This is the species that my mom grows so well.  To make the naming conventions even a little more complicated, the Asparagus densiflorus plant is sometimes given the common name "Sprenger's Asparagus."  According to wikipedia, Carl Ludwig Sprenger made these ferns popular in Europe.  So to reward him, his name has been applied as the botanical species name of the "Plumosa Fern" as as one of the common names for a different species A. densiflorus.

Aspargus densiflorus
Aspargus densiflorus - photo courtesy flickr user Mrs Ramsay
As I said, there are two common varieties of A. densiflorus.  One of these is sometimes labelled A. densiflorus 'Meyersii' and sometimes given the common name "Foxtail Asparagus Fern."  This plant has a much more manicured look, with foliage densely confined around each branch, almost forming perfect cones.  If you didn't know any better, you might think this plant had been pruned with some intricate little hedge trimmer.   The other variety is the true species, and is more of a free spirit, with branches that contain less form.  Even though the name Asparagus sprengeri was in honor of a person, this plant seems deserving of the name "sprengeri," because it looks "springy" as opposed to the 'Meyersii' variety.

Asparagus densiflorus Meyersii
Foxtail Asparagus Fern - Asparagus densiflorus 'Meyersii' - photo courtesy flickr user pandorea
I have an Asparagus densiflorus and A. densiflorus 'Meyersii' potted together.  Sadly, my Asparagus plumosus is no longer with us.  I would have shared photos of my ferns, but they become rather dormant over the winter and are just now being to "leaf out" again.  Of course, they are more like needles than leaves.  Botanically speaking, they are flattened stems that are capable of photosynthesis and they are called phylloclades.

Asparagus densiflorus in bloom
Asparagus densiflorus in bloom - photo courtesy flickr user Distraction Limited

Asparagus densiflorus berries
Asparagus densiflorus berries - photo courtesy flickr user Mr. Greenjeans
These plants have small white flowers, followed by green berries which become red with time.  I have a couple of Asparagus ferns on my front porch, and occasionally new plants will come up from seed that was spread to neighboring pots.  Underground, a small bulb-like feature grows.  It reminds me a bit of the bulbs of Pregnant Onion.

Asparagus densiflorus seedling
Asparagus densiflorus seedling - photo courtesy flickr user joeysplanting

Happy Birthday, Mom!  May all your fern fronds be green! :)


  1. Thank you so much!
    Wow! I just found out all sorts of funkywinkerdeen info about my fav. Guess I really fell in love with them since they "look" like ferns with their feathery foliage,but can tolerate the hot sun and low water conditions.
    And, they usually can hibernate over winter in the garage, be pulled out in the spring, looking dead and lifeless, and come back to life with water and sun. They are definitely survivors.
    I plan to attempt to separate some big ones and try planting one in the ground, mulch it in the fall, and see if I can get one to come back next spring. Wish me luck!

  2. My asparagus fern is rootbound. I've removed it from its hanging basket and am soaking it in water (since this a.m.)
    How do I use a bread knife (serated) to cut it. This is a great fern that blooms white. The blooms are followed by red holly-like balls. But it is totally roots (with tons of onion-like bulbs) H-E-L-P please so I won't ruin my 3 to 4 year old plant. How do I cut it apart to grow it again? I definitely want to continue part of it as the hanging basket by my door. Thanks so much in advance for your answer. B.