Asparagus Fern

3 Mar

Asparagus Fern(Asparagus densiflorus), 2-3 ft., light shade, arching fine textured stiff frond give an airy  effect, drought tolerant.

Asparagus densiflorus is a scrambling, slightly woody plant with upright or trailing branches up to 1 m long. The appearance of the plants varies enormously and has led to the naming of a large number of cultivars or forms. The best known forms belong to the so-called emerald ferns of the Asparagus densiflorus‘Sprengeri’ group. These plants form large cushions with long, arching stems more or less densely covered with dark green, needle-like leaves. The plants of this group can be used as groundcovers in shade as well as in full sun, or in large containers or hanging baskets. The cultivars ‘Cwebe’ and ‘Meyersii’ form more upright plants, particularly ‘Meyersii’, which looks very different, with its compact cat’s tail-like fronds.

Asparagus densiflorus flowers are small, most often white or pale pink and are very sweetly scented. The flowers are not very noticeable, as they are half hidden by the foliage and do not last long. They flower for about two weeks during the summer season, in South Africa as well as in the Northern Hemisphere. The flowering of the plants can be rather erratic, with the plants having a good flowering year on average only once every three years. The small flowers are followed by showy bright red berries, which each have one large black seed in them. The berries are attractive to birds and may be spread by them.

Distribution
Asparagus densiflorus grows in the coastal areas in the southeastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal in a wide range of habitats, from coastal dunes to open rocky places or woods. It can be grown in USDA zones 9-10 and is hardy to -7°C (20°F).

Name and history
The genus name of Asparagus is thought to be derived from the Greek Asparagos for the cultivated asparagus and is possibly derived from ‘a-‘- intensive and sparassa – to tear, referring to the sharp spines of many species. The species name of densiflorus refers to the way the small flowers are densely packed along the stem of the plant.

The earliest record of a South African asparagus is an illustration from 1686, while plants from the ‘Sprengeri’ group were introduced into cultivation as early as 1888. They are now grown all over the world and have proved hardy, drought tolerant and even fairly salt tolerant plants which can be used as garden plants or for cut foliage.

The South African Asparagus species are related to the European Asparagus species and have a botanically very interesting structure. The so-called leaves are not true leaves at all, but are actually cladodes and are thought to be modified branches, while the spines are formed from modified branches or from modified leaves.

There are about 69 species in southern Africa, possibly 30 to 40 in tropical Africa and also some in Asia. They are widespread and common but are not often collected because of the short flowering period and the presence of the spines.

Uses

Asparagus densiflorus grows in most soils and is fairly drought tolerant, but does much better in soil which is rich in organic matter and is watered regularly. To rejuvenate the plants, they can be cut back after flowering. At this time a thick mulch of compost can be spread around the plants.


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